Charter schools are public elementary and secondary institutions that are released from the red tape and regulations of other schools. In exchange for greater control over their curriculum, budget and other school operations, the schools must achieve specific academic standards determined by their charters. Because charter schools don't charge tuition, they largely rely on financial support from state and local government, as well as other sources such as grants and community funding.
Start-Up Grants Get the Process Moving
Start-up grants, available from both the state and federal departments of education, provide new charter schools with necessary funding and resources in the early stages of establishment. This includes finding a school building, designing a curriculum, hiring a staff and acquiring supplies such as books and furniture. While this funding can be instrumental in a charter school's initial years, it's only available for the first 36 months the school is open. Additionally, the institution must open within 18 months of receiving the grant in order to qualify for this type of funding.
State Funds Make Things Happen
Like traditional public schools, charter schools receive funding from both the local district and state based on the number of students enrolled. The exact amount of funding per student, however, differs among and even within states due to different methods of calculating this figure. Most states, for example, compute the number based on local property tax revenue. If students move from one charter school to another, this amount typically travels with them. A 2010 Ball State University study determined that charter school students received an average of $2,247 less per year than traditional public school students.
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Categorical Grants Meet Specific Needs
Based on the average daily attendance of students, categorical grants provide funding for 25 state-sponsored programs, including vocational programs, all-day kindergarten, special education and gifted classes. In some states, like California, this amount is determined by the number of attending students from economically disadvantaged families, while other schools receive grant money based on the number of students in special education or reduced lunch programs. The Indiana education organization State Impact website reports, though, that the programs the grants are intended for can often become additional expenses if they cost more to implement than the amount of the grant.
Charities and Fundraising Fill in the Gaps
Aside from donations from local groups such as "friends of" organizations and national charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, schools often rely on community members to give necessary resources like school supplies, financial contributions and even labor from volunteers who take care of grounds upkeep and building maintenance. Creative fundraising ideas, such as capital campaigns, silent auctions and recycling programs, also enlist community support for charter schools. In Texas and other states, all donations must be given voluntarily, with no preconditions for enrollment or admission.
- New Hampshire Department of Education: Start-Up Process
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Charter School Finance
- California Charter Schools Association: Charter School Funding
- California Law: California Education Code
- Indiana Public Media: Who Pays for Charter Schools and How?
- West Concord Public Charter School: Fundraising
- Lawyers Alliance for New York: Charter School Legal Issues
- Ball State University: National Study Finds Disparity in Public Funding of Charter, Traditional Schools
- Chris Hondros/Getty Images News/Getty Images