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Charter School Accountability

As taxpayer-funded schools, charter schools must be held to the same standards of accountability, transparency, and equity as traditional district public schools.

All students—Black, white and brown —deserve a high-quality education in safe and welcoming public schools.

Educators originally supported charter schools as a place to experiment with educational ideas within the school system. Instead, political cynics and billionaire hobbyists have turned charter schools into a separate, overlapping set of schools that play by their own rules.

Although some charter schools are excellent and offer valuable contributions to their communities, many charters are corporate chains or run by financiers who put profit over students.

NEA opposes the failed experiment of largely unaccountable privately managed charter schools. NEA supports non-profit public charter schools that are authorized and held accountable by local democratically elected school boards.

The growth of charters has undermined local public schools and communities without producing any overall increase in student learning and growth.

Frequently Asked Questions about Charter Schools

What are the concerns about charter schools? 

  • Charter schools drain funds from neighborhood public schools and magnet schools that serve the vast majority of our students.

  • Waste, fraud, and abuse is rampant in the charter sector. States often exempt charters from regular audits, open meeting acts, open record acts, and conflict of interest requirements used for other procurements of private services with public money.

  • Many charter schools operate for-profit. In places where charter schools are legally required to be non-profit, charter school boards often incorporate themselves as non-profits but contract operations to a for-profit entity run by the same group. Such legal shell games can be seen in acronyms like CMO and EMO (Charter Management Organization and Education Management Organization).

All schools that receive public funds should be held to the same excellence, equity, and transparency standards as public schools. 

  • Charter schools are unstable. Among charter schools that opened in 2012, fully 27% closed within the first five yearsbefore a kindergartner would finish elementary school. Closures are usually due to usually due to financial mismanagement or under-enrollment in a school that wasn’t needed in the first place. The highest closure rates are among poor students and students of color.

  • Charter schools increase segregation by race, ethnicity and income. Charter schools disproportionately do not serve students with disabilities, English learners or children who present disciplinary challenges.

  • Many charter schools do not require teachers to meet the same training and qualification requirements as traditional district public school teachers.

  • Politically, financially and rhetorically, charters block out other innovations within the public schools such as community schools or magnet schools.

How do charter schools impact public school finances? 

When students move to charter schools, “the funding follows the child.” However, the cost of operating the child’s former school is virtually unchanged. The school can't lay off 1/30th of a trigonometry teacher or sell 1/30th of a school bus to make up for the lost revenue. Instead, as children leave, public schools are forced to cut arts, sports and after school activities for the children who remain.

The financial hit is so serious, Moody's Investors Service reports that charter schools can negatively affect the district’s credit ratings.

How can charter schools be better? 

The National Education Association has outlined clear standards for a successful charter sector.

  • Charter schools must be authorized and held accountable by the local school board or equivalent local democratically accountable entity. Only a local entity is in position to determine what kind of school is needed and where it is needed to enhance the local system as a whole. Only a local entity is in position to monitor charter performance on an ongoing basis to ensure financial accountability and student success. 

  • The charter school must be necessary to meet the needs of students in the district that cannot be met in any other way.  

  • The charter school must comply with the same basic safeguards as other public schools. This includes open meetings and public records laws, prohibitions against for-profit operations or profiteering, and the same civil rights, employment, labor, health and safety laws and staff qualification and certification requirements as other public schools. 

Due to unregulated competition and lack of local control, Detroit found itself with 30,000 more school seats than students.

Why were charter schools created? 

The initial reason to create public charter schools was to increase flexibility and innovation within public education. Although some charter schools do aspire to the original ideals, on the whole it has not worked out that way. Many charter schools use the absence of regulation as an opening for questionable business practices – not innovations in teaching and learning.

What are the differences between charter schools and traditional public schools? 

  • Public schools are generally governed by a democratically accountable local school board with responsibility for all schools and students in the district. Charter schools have their own governance selected by operators and owners, with no obligation to the wider community. 

  • Charters are not generally required to comply with the same open meetings laws, open record laws and conflict of interest requirements that apply to public school boards, school districts and employees. Parents and communities rightly insist upon these commonsense protections that taxpayer-funded schools and other public institutions.

  • Charter schools tend to hire younger and less experienced teachers, and turn them over quickly. Many charter schools do not require teachers to meet the same certification requirements as public school teachers. 

Among federally funded charter schools in North Carolina for which data are available, 90% had fewer economically disadvantaged students than the local public schools.  

  • Charter schools or their management companies often operate for profit.

  • Public schools take all students. Charter schools often push out children who are unwanted or harder to teach. Public schools have more children with disabilities, especially severe disabilities. Children who are unwanted, expelled or disciplined out of charter schools end up at local public schools or out of school altogether.

How does student achievement in charter schools compare with that in traditional district schools? 

There are more and less successful charter schools, just as there are more and less successful traditional public schools. In both cases, most schools are somewhere in the middle. In general, neither charter schools nor public schools can fairly claim to be more successful at raising student achievement.

To the degree that charters show high achievement, it is indistinguishable from selection bias or increased coaching for test results. Reports that claim widespread charter school superiority generally cherry-pick their studies or examine schools that cherry-pick their students. 

The NEA is committed to standing with parents, educators, and communities to support charters driving creative solutions that nurture student needs and are committed to the long-term health of their communities. The NEA is also committed to advocating for measures ensuring that all charter schools operate in a high-quality manner that is equitable, accountable, and transparent. 

Member Marcia MacKey
The union has supported me in everything. I have gotten all sorts of training. I think I am much better in the classroom because of my union work. I think I am a better advocate because I found out I have a voice.
Quote by: Marcia MacKey, Associate Professor of Sport Management and Aquatics, Michigan Education Association
National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.