Charter School Office

Frequently Asked Questions About Charter Schools in New York State

DEFINITIONS
FORMING CHARTER SCHOOLS
MINIMUM STANDARDS
STUDENTS
STUDENT SERVICES
EMPLOYEE ISSUES
ACCOUNTABILITY

DEFINITIONS

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school. It is financed through public local, State, and federal funds but is independent of local school boards. The authority of the charter school to provide education is through a "charter," a type of contract, between the charter school board of trustees and one of the chartering entities that has been approved and issued by the Board of Regents. Charter schools typically focus on innovative curricula, a new approach to school organization, or some other features that differentiate them from regular public schools. Students may choose to attend any charter school and are accepted through an application procedure.

What are the purposes of charter schools?

Charter schools as defined in New York may be created to:

  • Improve student learning and achievement;

  • Increase learning opportunities for students who are at-risk of academic failure;

  • Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;

  • Create new professional opportunities for educators;

  • Provide parents and students with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system; and

  • Provide schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.

Are charter schools something new?

Charter schools surfaced as a concept in 1974, but 1991 marked the first passage of a charter school law by a state (Minnesota). New York is the 35th state (including the District of Columbia) to enact charter schools legislation. It is estimated that over 1,100 charter schools have been established in the USA.

What is a charter entity?

A charter entity is authorized to approve charter school applications. Boards of education of school districts, the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York, and the Board of Regents are the charter entities to which applicants may submit charter school applications. Fifty charters shall be issued by the Board of Regents on the recommendation of the State University of New York, and fifty charters shall be issued on the recommendation of other charter entities. Only a local board of education may approve an application for the conversion of an existing public school to a charter school subject to the approval of the Board of Regents. In New York City, the Chancellor serves as the charter entity rather than the local school board. The Board of Regents is the only entity with the authority to issue a charter.

What is the difference between a charter school and a chartered school?

A chartered school is any nonpublic school formed by the Board of Regents as an education corporation, but which operates independently under general oversight of the Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Education.  A charter school is a public school authorized to operate on the basis of an approved charter, which is a document describing the conditions under which the school was approved to operate and the expectations it will have to meet in order to continue to be authorized.   However, like a chartered nonpublic school, a charter school will be formed by the Regents as an education corporation.

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FORMING CHARTER SCHOOLS

Who can open a charter school in New York?

An application to establish a charter school may be submitted by teachers, parents, school administrators, community residents or any combination thereof.   Such application may be filed in conjunction with a college, university, museum, educational institution, not-for-profit corporation, or for-profit business, but may also be filed independently.  A charter school may be authorized for a maximum duration of five years.  A charter may be renewed for subsequent periods not to exceed five years each.

What is a private non-profit corporation and how does one incorporate?

A private non-profit corporation that has tax exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the internal revenue code is a corporation formed for non-business purposes such as charitable, scientific, literary, educational or cultural purposes.  In New York, a non-profit corporation of this type can be formed by filing a certificate of incorporation with the Secretary of State pursuant to the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law, or where the corporation has educational purposes, by filing a petition with the Board of Regents to create an education corporation.

What grade levels can charter schools offer?

Charter schools may offer instruction in one or more grades between grade 1 and grade 12 and may also offer kindergarten.  If they offer high school grade levels, they may offer local and Regents diplomas to the same extent as other public schools.  Note that for students entering high school in the fall of 2001 and subsequently, neither a charter school nor any other public school will have the option of issuing a local diploma.

Can an existing nonpublic school convert to a charter school?

The law specifically prohibits an existing nonpublic school from converting to a charter school.

How many charter schools may be established?

The law sets a limit of 200 charter schools.  However, public schools that elect to convert to become charter schools are not included in the count.

If a charter entity rejects a charter application, can the applicant appeal?

No. If a charter entity denies an application for a charter school, the denial is final and not reviewable to any authority, including a court of law. However, the applicant may apply to other charter entities.

May churches or religious denominations or groups start up a charter school?

Churches or religious denominations or groups may not control or direct a charter school, so that involvement of churches or religious denominations or groups in the management and operation of the charter school is impermissible. Individual members of the clergy or other religious leaders are not prohibited from serving on charter school boards of trustees merely because they are clergy. However, the presence of clergy on the board of trustees cannot place the charter school under the control of a religious denomination. In any case, a charter school must be nonsectarian in its programs, admissions policies, employment practices and other operations and may not provide or allow the use of its funds or resources to support religious instruction.

Can a charter school be a pre-school?

No. A kindergarten may be part of a charter school, but a charter school must include some grades between one and twelve.

What is the allowable extent/duration of a charter?

Charters may be issued for a term of up to five years and may be renewed for additional five-year periods.

By what entity are charters issued to approved charter schools?

Only the Board of Regents is authorized to issue a charter. It may do so in response to an approved application forwarded by a chartering entity (i.e., school district or the SUNY Board of Trustees), or in response to an application which it receives directly from an applicant. Fifty of the one hundred initial charters shall be issued on the recommendation of the State University.

Under what conditions may charters be revoked or terminated?

A charter entity or the Board of Regents may revoke a school’s charter if student achievement falls below the level that would allow revocation of the registration of another public school; for serious violations of law, for violation of the charter, including fiscal mismanagement; or for violations of the civil service law regarding discrimination against employees.

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MINIMUM STANDARDS

Is a charter school subject to the same laws and regulations as other public schools?

No. The charter school is subject to the same health and safety, civil rights, and student assessment requirements as other public schools, but is exempt from all other State and local laws, rules, regulations, or policies governing public or private schools, other than the provisions of Article 56 of the Education Law regarding charter schools.

Will charter schools have to address the State learning standards established by the Board of Regents?

Yes. Charter schools must meet the same student assessment requirements as other public schools, and they must design their educational programs to meet or exceed the State’s student performance standards.

Will charter schools have to administer State assessments?

Yes. Charter schools are subject to the same student assessment requirements as other public schools and nonpublic schools.

Do charter school students have to take Regents exams?

According to the law, "A charter school shall design its educational programs to meet or exceed the student performance standards adopted by the Board of Regents." Students attending a charter school are required to take Regents examinations to the same extent that such examinations are required of other public school students. A charter school offering instruction in the high school grades may grant Regents diplomas and local diplomas to the same extent as other public schools. A charter school may also grant other certificates and honors that are specifically authorized by its charter.

May regular high schools accept academic credit from students who transfer from a charter school?

Yes.

Who issues the high school diploma upon graduation from a charter school? the charter school? the local school board?

Either the charter school or the local school board might issue the diploma, depending on the charter school’s relationship with the local school board.

The public schools require a minimum school year of 180 days, and a 5 or 5-1/2 hour day. Is there a minimum requirement for charter schools?

No. The length of the school year and day is determined by the charter school. However, the law states that the charter school must "provide at least as much instruction time during the school year as [is] required of other public schools."

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STUDENTS

What is the minimum number of students required for a charter school?

The minimum number of students is 50, unless the applicant presents a compelling justification.

On what basis may a charter school select students?

In general, a charter school may establish no admissions requirements except that students meet the age or grade level requirements specified in its charter. However, a charter school may be formed as a single-sex school or as a school designed to serve at-risk students, and in such circumstances may limit admissions to students of a single gender or who are at-risk of failure in school, unless such action would constitute impermissible discrimination under federal law. In addition, a charter school may deny admission to a student who is currently under suspension or expulsion by another public school until the period of suspension or expulsion has expired. A charter school may provide admissions preference to students returning to a charter school, siblings of children attending a charter school, and children residing in the local school district.

Must charter schools be open to all students?

Yes. Any child who is qualified under the laws of this State for admission to a public school is qualified for admission to a charter school. Immunization requirements for enrollment in the public schools, as health and safety requirements, will apply to charter school students.

Are charter schools required to enroll children with special needs?

Yes. A charter school shall not discriminate against any student on the basis of ethnicity, national origin, gender, or disability.

Can a child be dually enrolled in a charter school and another public school?

No.

Can a charter school student participate in athletics or other extracurricular activities?

Yes. The child could participate in athletics or other extracurricular activities at a regular public school if the public school allows it.

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STUDENT SERVICES

Who provides transportation for students in a charter school?

For the purpose of transportation, charter schools are considered nonpublic schools, which means that students attending charter schools who reside within a 15-mile radius of the charter school (or a greater radius if the voters of the school district of residence have approved nonpublic transportation for more than 15 miles) will receive transportation from their school district of residence on the same basis as nonpublic school students (i.e., subject to the applicable minimum mileage limits for transportation in the school district of residence, and the requirement of the timely filing of a request for transportation pursuant to Education Law ยง 3635(2)).

Does a charter school have to provide breakfast and/or lunch?

The charter school must provide the food services specified in its charter. The school may access federal funds available for meals served to students that meet meal pattern requirements. Students from families whose income is below 185 percent of poverty are eligible to receive free or reduced priced meals.

How much money do charter schools receive?

The amount depends on the number of students the charter school serves and the approved operating expense (based on local, State, and federal funds) of the various districts of residence of those students. If the charter school provides special education programs and services to its students, rather than have such services provided by the school districts of residence, the charter school will also receive any State or local aid in proportion to the level of services provided. Money would follow students to the charter school.

Can charter schools charge their students tuition and/or fees?

No, except for fees that public schools are authorized to charge.

Can charter schools solicit and accept private funding?

Yes.

Can a charter school issue bonds or take on indebtedness?

Yes, the charter school may issue corporate bonds. However, the charter school may not pledge the per pupil funding from the local school district to pay the bonds.

Can charter schools use funds to lease facilities?

Yes. However, the charter school may not pledge the per pupil funding to pay for construction costs.

What funds are available to cover the start-up costs of charter schools?

In addition to any private donations a charter school might receive for start-up costs, charter schools may apply to the charter school stimulus fund for funds appropriated to assist charter schools with start-up costs, which may include facilities costs.

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EMPLOYEE ISSUES

Will the people who teach at charter schools have to be certified by New York State?

At least 70 percent of teachers must be certified. The number of uncertified teachers employed by a charter school may be no more than 30 percent or 5 teachers, whichever is less. Certified teachers who teach outside of their certification area are not counted in determining the permissible number of uncertified teachers.

Is there a limit on the number of teachers in a charter school?

There is no upper limit. The minimum number of teachers at a charter school is three, though there may be exceptions if applicants provide justification for such exceptions.

Will the people who work in charter schools be employees of the school district in which the charter school is located?

They will be employees of the charter school, not of the school district where the charter school is located.

Must a charter school participate in collective bargaining agreements in the school district in which the charter school is located?

Under certain conditions. If a public schools converts to a charter school, the employees who were eligible for representation will still be subject to the collective bargaining agreement for the local school district. Charter schools that are not conversion schools, and which have more than 250 students in the first year of the school, will be deemed to be represented by the same employee organization that represents instructional employees in the school district where the charter school is located. For up to 10 charter schools approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees, the requirement described in the previous sentence may be waived regardless of the school’s enrollment. Charter schools with fewer than 250 students during the first year of operation are exempt from mandatory union representation. Charter schools that are not conversions of existing public schools are not bound by existing collective bargaining agreements in effect in the local school district.

May charter school employees be represented by a union?

Yes, charter school employees may be represented by a union. If the employees of a charter school are not represented by a union, the charter school must afford reasonable access to any employee organization. It shall be an improper practice if the charter school does not remain neutral in a representation vote by employees.

May a teacher in a public school take a leave of absence to teach in a charter school?

Yes, a teacher employed by a public school may request an extended leave of absence to teach in a charter school. A request for a leave of up to two years may not be unreasonably withheld.

What type of retirement benefits can charter schools offer?

Charter school employees are eligible to join the Teachers’ Retirement System or other relevant retirement system open to employees of public schools.

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ACCOUNTABILITY

Who oversees charter schools?

The charter entity that approved the charter school and the Board of Regents may exercise oversight over the charter school. A school district may inspect a charter school approved by the Board of Regents or SUNY Board of Trustees and forward evidence of non-compliance of law to the appropriate Board.

What is the relationship between the charter school and the Board of Regents?

The Board of Regents is the only entity that can provide final approval of the application and give authorization for the charter although 50 of the 100 initial charters shall be issued on the recommendation of the State University of New York. The Board of Regents has the authority to revoke a charter and to deny renewal of a charter.

What is the relationship between a charter school and the university system?

If the SUNY Board of Trustees is the charter entity, it exercises oversight of the charter school and may revoke the charter of the school. This is in addition to the authority of the Board of Regents to oversee the charter school and revoke its charter.

What happens to students upon the dissolution of a charter school?

The charter must make provision for the dissolution or closure of the charter school, including the transfer of students and student records to the school district in which the charter school is located. If those students are not residents of that school district, they could be required to pay tuition as nonresident students. Such students would have the right to return to their school district of residence and attend without the payment of tuition.

How do charter school students obtain textbooks?

Charter school students would receive textbooks in the same manner as students in a nonpublic school.

Can a charter school be established to serve students with disabilities only?

A charter school may be established to provide expanded learning opportunities to students at risk of academic failure, which would include students with disabilities, but admissions standards may not be established that qualify students based on disability.

What reporting requirements do charter schools have to meet?

Charter schools are required to make an annual report to the chartering entity and the Board of Regents.

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Last Updated: October 24, 2012