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Charter School FAQs

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school that operates under a contract, or charter, entered into between the school's organizer and a charter school authorizer (sometimes referred to as a charter school "sponsor"). Under Indiana Code § 20-24, charter schools are established to serve the different learning styles and needs of public school students, to offer them appropriate and innovative choices, to afford varied opportunities for professional educators, to allow freedom and flexibility in exchange for exceptional levels of accountability, and to provide parents, students, community members, and local entities with an expanded opportunity for involvement in the public school system.

Like traditional public schools, charter public schools must have open enrollment policies, may not charge tuition, and cannot discriminate based on disability, race, color, gender, national origin, religion, or ancestry. Some charter schools serve at-risk populations such as students living in poverty or at-risk of dropping out. Others provide accelerated learning opportunities for students, including both traditional and at-risk students.

How does a charter public school differ from a traditional public school?

Charter schools were created to provide innovative and creative educational choices for students and their parents. As such, they are exempt from some state and school district regulations and have more autonomy than a traditional public school, in exchange for more accountability. In Indiana, an individual charter school is considered to be its own local educational agency (LEA), meaning it is treated as an autonomous entity that is independent from a school district. For some purposes, including funding and other purposes specified in law, charter schools can be treated as their own school corporations. Although public charter schools are exempt from some state and district regulations, they are held to high levels of accountability. In addition to meeting state and federal accountability requirements in Indiana (Public Law 221 – Indiana's A-F Model – and No Child Left Behind) charter schools must also meet the requirements set out in their charter. An authorizer may revoke a school's charter at any time if the school is not fulfilling the terms of its charter. In addition, a charter school is subject to a rigorous review at the end of each charter term, in order to determine whether or not the school's charter should be renewed.

What is a virtual charter school?

A virtual charter school is a public school operating under a charter that delivers instruction through online technology. Like bricks-and-mortar charter schools, virtual charter schools must meet state and federal accountability requirements in Indiana (Public Law 221 – Indiana's A-F Model - and No Child Left Behind) in addition to those set out in their charter. Depending on the school, programs are either self-paced or scheduled lessons and activities. Indiana statute defines a virtual charter school in the following manner: "'virtual charter school' means any charter school, including a conversion charter school, that provides for the delivery of more than fifty percent (50%) of instruction to students through: (1) virtual distance learning;  (2) online technologies; or (3) computer based instruction." See IC § 20-24-7-13 for the complete reference.

Are charter schools private schools?

No, charter schools are not private schools. Though charter schools may receive private donations, charter schools are public schools that receive federal and state funding to cover operating costs. As defined in IC § 20-24-5, charter schools must be open to any student who resides in Indiana and may not establish admission policies or limit student admissions in any manner in which a public school is not permitted to establish admission policies or limit student admissions. If the charter school receives a greater number of applicants than there are spaces for students, the organizer must hold a random drawing in a public meeting.

Are charter schools for-profit entities?

No, charters schools are public schools. In Indiana, a charter may only be awarded by an authorizer to a nonprofit corporation with a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt designation from the Internal Revenue Service. Like traditional public schools, public charter schools may elect to enter into contracts with for-profit education service providers and other for-profit entities to provide instructional, tutoring, professional development, financial and accounting services, etc.

Do charter schools drain resources from traditional school corporations?

Charter schools, like traditional district schools, were established by the Indiana legislature to deliver a public education to Indiana students in grades K-12. Charter schools receive basic tuition support from the state but do not have the authority to levy local taxes. In Indiana, funding follows the student. This means that, if a student chooses to enroll in a charter school, the charter school will receive state funding on a per-pupil basis in order to provide an education for that student. Similarly, if a student chooses instead to enroll in a traditional district school, the district school will receive state funding associated with that student. In this manner, the school that is providing an education to a student is the school that receives the state funding associated with that student.

Who authorizes charter schools in the State of Indiana and how many can be authorized?

Charter schools in Indiana can be authorized by one of the following: (1) a governing body, (2) a state educational institution that offers a four year baccalaureate degree, (3) the executive (as defined in IC § 36-1-2-5) of a consolidated city, (4) the Indiana Charter School Board, or (5) a nonprofit college or university that provides a four year educational program for which it awards a baccalaureate or more advanced degree. Unlike many states, Indiana's legislation does not place a limit on the number of charter schools that can open in the State.

Who is eligible to organize a charter school in Indiana?

Any nonprofit entity that (a) has been determined by the IRS to be operating as a tax-exempt organization with a 501(c)(3) designation, or has applied for such determination, and (b) whose organizational documents (e.g., articles of incorporation, by-laws) include a provision that upon dissolution all remaining assets (other than funds received from the Indiana Department of Education, which must be returned to the Department) must be used for non-profit educational purposes. This may require establishment of new or separate entities by existing non-profit corporations whose current purpose is broader than education.

What is the process to start a charter school?

The process that an organizer must go through varies based on the sponsor to whom the organizer is applying. The Indiana Charter School Board's application process includes a Letter of Intent, a Full Application, an interview, and a public hearing prior to a final decision by the Board. Potential charter school organizers must be prepared to devote significant time to planning and researching during the application development stage. An organizer should carefully review the contents of Indiana's charter schools law and work to establish a clear mission statement and vision for what the charter school will accomplish.

What state laws apply to charter schools?

Charter schools are public schools and as such are required to comply with all Indiana laws, except those that expressly do not apply to charter schools. For example, charter schools must comply with laws pertaining to open enrollment, special education, the unified accounting system established by the State Board of Accounts, student health and safety, compulsory school attendance, and standardized testing.

How many charter schools does Indiana currently have?

Eleven charter schools opened in Indiana in 2002, the first year for charter schools in the state.  Beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, 71 charter schools will be open across the state of Indiana.