What is a charter school?
A charter school, referred to as a “community school” in Ohio law, is a state-funded public school that admits all students without regard to their assigned public school district.
Unlike “neighborhood schools,” there are no residential requirements to attend a charter school and no criteria for admitting those who choose to enroll there. No family is ever forced to enroll their child in a charter school—it is a choice.
Charter schools offer less curricular flexibility than private schools, more structure than homeschools, and more focus-area options than many assigned district schools. While online charter schools offer flexibility for parents to incorporate religious elements at home, all charter school operations and curriculum are non-religious in Ohio.
Charter schools are required to follow the learning standards of the state, undergo all required state testing, and students receive an Ohio diploma upon graduation.
Charter school state test results are made public so parents can compare student performance across prospective schools. As public schools, charter schools are eligible for awards like the US Department of Education Blue Ribbon School distinction and Ohio’s Momentum Award for schools showing impressive growth.
Charter schools generally fall into one of four major categories:
- Traditional: Typical brick and mortar charter schools often provide an experience similar to district-based public schools, though they have the freedom to incorporate specific focus-area(s), such as college prep, arts, or experiential hands-on learning.
- At-Risk: Charter schools may specialize in drop-out prevention and recovery for students with specific risk factors and challenges standing in the way of successful graduation.
- Special Needs: Children with disabilities may thrive in a school environment geared entirely towards overcoming physical and/or learning disabilities.
- Online: Out of all Ohio students enrolled in charter school, virtual learning is the method of choice for 1 out of 4, meaning 25,000 students across Ohio utilize online charter school platforms. There are 14 online charter schools providing virtual learning. Some of the largest platforms are Ohio Virtual Academy, Ohio Connections Academy, and Ohio Distance & Electronic Learning Academy (OHDELA).
You can find a list of charter schools located in your county here.
What will my child’s educational experience be like?
Charter schools have much more freedom to tailor their environment to the needs of their community. There is also much more opportunity for innovation beyond that of a district school experience.
Some charter schools may require specific dress codes or a uniform and provide the “feel” of a private school environment, but they are actually a subset of public schools.
Sometimes bullying or health issues for district students make going to a physical location undesirable on a temporary or long-term basis. For parents that are unable or have no desire to homeschool, online charter schools maintain much of the structure of a typical classroom.
Charter schools operate under statewide curriculum requirements, and administer all required statewide tests with results available to the public. Having this option available for students and parents can help make education possible without the hands-on time commitment required by many homeschooling programs. Charter schooling, especially online charter school experience, can also serve to introduce parents to the idea of homeschooling in the future.
Student-teacher interaction and class sizes often vary across ages and programs, especially for online charter schools. Parents should be sure to inquire about flexibility for learners to work ahead as well as remedial recovery available for students that fall behind.
While in high school, charter school students can take state-college classes for free. Funding for College Credit Plus (CCP) is unlimited for charter school students, whereas private schools are provided a specific CCP allotment for participating students. CCP courses may be taught online, on the college campus by college professors, or at the charter school campus by approved high school teachers or professors.
Upon successful completion of a CCP course, credits earned can transferred to any Ohio public college. Some ambitious charter school students may even graduate high school with both a high school diploma and an associate degree.
Even though the completed college credits will be accepted at any state college, interested parents should still look into what steps the charter school takes to facilitate student access to college courses.
What are the financial costs & time commitments required for the private school option?
Charter schools are public schools funded by the state and they cannot charge for enrollment or tuition. Online charter schools must ensure students have a computer and in-person charter schools cannot require parents to purchase computers.
Time commitments required of the parent or guardian will depend on the charter school of your choice and age of your child. Charter schools with a physical location in your neighborhood have a similar calendar and school day as a traditional public school.
Transportation for all Ohio students is provided by public school districts, which are stewards of state funds designated to transport all students. In many districts, parents who choose a charter school for their child may have to provide their own transportation for their student to a school located less than two miles or more than 30 minutes from their home. Sometimes the local public school district responsible for charter school transportation may decide to transport students who live between one and two miles from their school.
If a district determines transportation is not feasible for a student who would otherwise be transported to a district school, there is a process by which the district can provide a minimal stipend to parents to seek transportation through other means. District schools have some discretion concerning transportation practices, so be sure to ask prospective charter schools about student transportation and contact your local school transportation office to see if they provide transportation to your desired charter school.
What are the next steps to enroll my child in a charter school?
In the wake of COVID-19, many public schools are moving away from providing in-person classes five days a week and instead opting for remote learning or a staggered hybrid schedule. Online charter schools are an excellent option for families who are prepared to have their student home full time. This may be the best option for families seeking an online learning experience with teachers who are accustomed to students learning at home and with platforms developed prior to COVID-19.
If you are looking at an in-person charter school, be sure to ask your prospective charter schools about their plans for the upcoming year as well as how remote learning might operate if COVID-19 government restrictions increase.
The enrollment is relatively straightforward: Simply go to the school and express a desire to enroll, or go to the school website and enroll online.
Before COVID-19, most charter schools had little-to-no issues running out of room for students that meet their enrollment deadline. Charter schools cannot choose students on the basis of any criteria. While the lottery process is a state law requirement, Ohio charter schools have some discretion in their waitlist processing and capacity determinations. Work with your prospective school to determine what their specific policies are.
Once your child is admitted to a charter school, you can automatically renew each year.