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Charter Schools CalEdFacts - CalEdFacts

This content is part of California Department of Education's information and media guide about education in the State of California. For similar information on other topics, visit the full CalEdFacts.

A charter school is a public school that may provide instruction in any combination of grades (kindergarten through grade twelve). Parents, teachers, or community members may initiate a charter petition, which is typically presented to and approved by a local school district governing board. The law grants chartering authority to county boards of education and the State Board of Education under certain circumstances, such as the appeal of a petition’s denial by a school district governing board or the direct approval of countywide benefit or statewide benefit charter schools.

The specific goals and operating procedures for a charter school are detailed in the agreement (the charter) between the authorizing entity and the school’s organizers. Charter status frees the school from many of the state statutes and regulations that apply to school districts. It is the intent of the California Legislature under state law that charter schools operate independently from the existing school district structure as a method to accomplish all of the following:

  • Improve pupil learning.
  • Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.
  • Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.
  • Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the schoolsite.
  • Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system.
  • Hold the schools established under this part accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.
  • Provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools.

Charter schools are subject to the following conditions:

  • An existing private school may not be converted to a charter school.
  • A charter school must be nonsectarian.
  • A charter school may not discriminate, nor can it charge tuition.
  • No pupil can be required to attend a charter school, nor can teachers be required to work in a charter school.
  • A charter school must have highly credentialed teachers in all core subjects. Teachers in charter schools shall hold a Commission on Teacher Credentialing certificate, permit, or other document equivalent to that which a teacher in other public schools would be required to hold.
  • Charter schools must admit all students who wish to attend the school; however, if the number of students exceeds the school's capacity, attendance shall be determined by a public random drawing. Certain attendance preferences are available under state law.

In 1992, California became the second state in the nation to adopt public charter school legislation. As of the beginning of the 2018–19 school year, 1306 charter schools and seven all-charter districts are operating in California. Of the individual active charter schools:

  • Approximately 84 percent are start-up schools, and the remainder are conversions of pre-existing public schools.
  • Approximately 74 percent are classroom- or site-based, and the remainder are either partially or exclusively nonclassroom-based (independent study).

Charter schools are located throughout the state in 54 of California’s 58 counties and in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Student populations are diverse and tend to reflect the student populations of the districts in which the charter schools are located. As of the 2017–18 school year, the number of students enrolled in charter schools was approximately 628,849, or approximately ten percent of the public school student population in California.

Innovative charter schools provide programs that offer everything from an emphasis on foreign languages to performing and fine arts. Some charter schools develop partnerships with other public agencies (such as the California Conservation Corps, or local community colleges), and some provide specialized programs (such as a program to place students in work experience settings or a Youth Build Program). Although most charter school students attend site-based programs with the look and feel of a traditional classroom, other students participate in programs with research-based alternative learning modalities (such as the Montessori method) or programs that are tailored to the needs of the individual student (such as nonclassroom-based instruction). In some cases, charter schools focus on dropout recovery, providing a second chance to students who wish to pursue a high school diploma but who have not been successful in other settings.

An interactive Web-based map, which affords the public easy access to specific information on charter schools, is available on the CDE Charter School Locator web page.

For more information regarding charter schools, contact the Charter Schools Division at 916-322-6029, or by email at Additional information is available on the CDE Charter Schools web page and the Frequently Asked Questions about Charter Schools web page.

Questions: Charter Schools Division | | 916-322-6029 
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, May 25, 2021
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