About NC Charter Schools

Charter Schools FAQs

Are charter schools public schools?

YES! Like traditional schools, charter schools receive the bulk of their funding from the state and county governments.   Charters are authorized only by the State Board of Education (SBE) under state statute and must be renewed periodically.    Unlike some states, North Carolina is a single authorizer state.  Their oversight comes from the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) and the Office of Charter Schools (OCS) located in the Department of Public Instruction. Charters are governed by non-profit corporations instead of local Boards of Education. Some charters’ boards of directors contract with a for-profit company to operate the school on a day-to-day basis, but all charter schools are non-profit.

List of CSAB Members

How many charter schools and students are there?

Currently, there are 171 brick and mortar schools and 2 virtual schools that educate more than 90,000 students in 61 counties. About a dozen new schools are scheduled to open next year. Approximately 5% of our state’s students attend a charter. The CSAB reviews an average of 30 new applications each year. Approximately 80% of charters have waiting lists.

How are the students who attend a charter school determined? 

Charter schools determine which students attend them by allotments, applications, and lotteries.   First, the SBE allots each charter school a maximum funding amount for student enrollment.   Each school determines the number of students they can reasonably accept based on this limit.   Second, any parent whose child is eligible to attend a NC public school may apply to any NC charter school on their child’s behalf.   As a result, many charter schools receive students from counties outside the one in which it is located.   This also means that some legislative districts that do not have a charter school have charter students.   Finally, if a charter receives more applications than its allotment, it conducts a lottery with exemptions for staff children and siblings.   Discrimination on the basis of race, creed, national origin, or religion is prohibited.

How are new charter schools created?

North Carolina is one of 14 single-authorizer states. A group of state citizens form a non-profit board and apply to the Office of Charter Schools for a charter. The application is then reviewed by OCS staff. Those deemed complete are presented to the CSAB and a recommendation to the SBE is voted on. Final approval is made by the SBE. Those approved move to the Ready to Open Process. During that year, schools must meet certain benchmarks or the charter could be delayed or rescinded. The charter law was passed in 1996 by the General Assembly and a 100 school cap was removed in 2011.

How are charter schools funded? 

Charter Schools receive a per pupil allotment from the state based on the state funding for the county in which it is located. Schools receive access to their funding three times a year.  Each school also receives a per pupil share of local funding from each district whose parents send students to the charter. However, certain local money is exempted from being shared with charters including most local education taxes.  Enrollment is determined once a year 20 academic days after school begins – the same as traditional schools. Charters receive the lower of that number or their funded enrollment. The state budget supplies $366 million to charters. Charters charge no tuition, just like traditional schools.

How do charters obtain their facilities?

Charters do not receive any funding from the state for their facilities. County governments are specifically prohibited from providing any capital funding to charter schools. In our state, the definition of capital is broader than just real estate.  Charters must buy, build, or rent their buildings and land as would any other non-profit. They pay for it from their operating funds or money raised for the purpose.

What flexibility do charters have that traditional schools do not?

Charter Schools are not responsible to the local school district office as are traditional schools. While charters must adhere to the state requirements for the number of school days, they do not have a set minimum school opening or closing date. They are not required to follow the state curriculum, but must meet state testing standards. Staff flexibility is a key component of charter success. Charters are not required to pay their principals or teachers by the state pay scale so they can pay better teachers more.  Charters must have 50% of their teachers certified, but have the flexibility to bring in outside professionals to teach in their field of expertise. Charters are not required to provide transportation or meals, but many do. As part of their state charter contract, they are required to have a plan to make sure no student is prevented from attending because of lack of those services.

How are charter schools accountable for taxpayer dollars? 

The public funds going to charter schools are very transparent. A special division of DPI, the Office of Charter Schools (OCS), is dedicated to charter oversight, as is the Charter Schools Advisory Board. Charters must adhere to a lengthy charter contract with the state. They cannot even access their state dollars directly, but instead must provide documentation before their bills are paid by the state. There are surprise visits by OCS consultants, an annual audit by a CPA firm, and the Financial Performance Framework Guide designed specifically for charter schools. They are subject to host of laws, and state and federal agencies. New charters must meet the “Ready to Open” criteria. Charter Boards of Directors do not receive any compensation, and are subject to state open-meeting and nepotism statutes.

What about EC students?

In North Carolina, the percentages of students requiring Exceptional Children (EC) services in charter and traditional schools are approximately the same.  The funding formula is same: a per pupil allotment for each student identified regardless of the severity with a further application to the Reserve Fund for more severe cases. With limited back office resources, charter schools have found this system cumbersome. Funding is limited to 12.5% of the students, even if the actual number of EC students exceeds 12.5%. About 37% of charter schools exceed that limit.

How do charters compare academically to traditional schools?

Last year, 40% of charters received a school performance grade of A, ANG, or B. That compares to just over 32% of traditional schools received a similar score.  There is room for improvement. Slightly more (4.8%) charters than traditional schools did receive a D or F. However, the data shows charters are providing quality education to our children.

Do charter schools “take” funding from traditional schools?

NO! The state and local funds provided to charters to educate the students whose parents choose to send them there would revert to the traditional educational system if charters were eliminated.  However, the students would revert to them as well, so the traditional school funding per pupil would not increase. It would be the same if parents were forced to pay tuition at public charter schools. As a rule, charter parents are not wealthy enough to afford it – so that would be the same as eliminating charters. In fact, overall per pupil funding might actually be lower because some local funding is not shared with charters. Then there would be the greater construction funding required by local districts in high growth areas – charters help alleviate that. The only thing that would change if charters were eliminated is the choice for parents. Funding should follow the child to whichever public school their parents choose for them to attend. Let’s not forget they are all “our” children wherever they attend.