Charter schools are public schools that are not allowed to charge tuition or restrict admission to enrollees based upon socioeconomic or other limitations. Charter schools typically have a niche that they fill in the community that traditional public schools do not offer or do not offer in the same manner. For example, in our school district, we have a charter school that offers dual language immersion education for kids that want to learn core curricula in both English and Spanish. It is open to all kids, provided they enroll in kindergarten or first grade (or have the ability to test in successfully if they enroll in the upper grades - 3-5.
A charter school must have an authorizer prior to gaining approval for the charter. It is usually proposed to the Board of Education by an individual or grassroots organization with the approval and support of the local school district serving as the authorizer.
Charter schools have flexibility to offer innovative curricula that may differ in methodology from that which is used in traditional classrooms. They must have ways of measuring and demonstrating their success or risk having their charters revoked.
In addition, charter schools have access to millions of dollars in federal funding that is not available to traditional schools in an effort to promote innovation and the ability to reach unique academic goals. Such money comes in the form of grants (i.e. development; implementation and dissemination grants).
It is incumbent upon each school district and the parent governing groups of each charter school, to help govern and monitor the successes of the schools. This type of oversight helps to assure that charters do not exist merely as a means of circumventing traditional and somewhat restrictive educational methodology. Local agencies such as departments of public instruction and Charter School Associations help provide oversight, especially of those schools that have received any federal funding, to hold them accountable for meeting the high academic standards to which they are bound.
In addition to academic success, charter schools typically have objectives related to social responsibility goal and parent governance. The charter schools in our area have kids that volunteer at homeless shelters and soup kitchens and have vitally active parent leadership councils which are involved in such things as curricula development, staff interviews and selection, charter contract negotiations, etc.