Guide: Charter Schools

How do charter schools compare to traditional public and private schools?

Charter schools are public schools. They receive money from the city’s Department of Education, but the department does not control them. The schools do not have to adhere to the department’s designated curriculum, and are also free to determine their own school day length and hiring practices. They do not have to hire unionized teachers. Students at charter schools must, however, take the same standardized tests as students in traditional public schools.

Charter schools are judged based on how well they carry out the mandates of their “charter agreement” — a five-year contract with the city or state, setting student achievement standards. A charter school can lose its charter and be shut down if it does not meet the standards.

Children must apply to charter schools, unlike traditional public, or zoned schools, where children simply register. The schools are not, however, allowed to restrict admission based on grades, race, class or special needs, and they are not allowed to charge tuition. Some charters do not have the staff for students with the most serious disabilities, but parents should inquire directly.

If a charter school has more applicants than seats, it must hold a lottery to ensure that acceptances are fairly allocated. Charter schools are supposed to give priority to students who reside in their district before filling any remaining seats with children from outside the district.

More information on charter schools can be found on the Department of Education Web site or at the National Charter Schools Resource Center.

Who should I contact if I have a problem with a charter school and the principal is unresponsive?

If you feel there is a problem at your charter school, or that your school is not following the mandates of its charter agreement, your first step as a parent is to contact the school administration, a principal or assistant principal. If they refuse to help you or you are unsatisfied with their response there are three more steps you can take.

The first is to contact your school’s board of trustees. You can contact your school board to have your grievance placed on the agenda and discussed at the next monthly public meeting. After that, if you are not satisfied and would like to appeal the decision of your board of trustees, or if they have not resolved the issue in an appropriate amount of time, you may contact your charter school’s authorizer.

In New York City, there are three potential authorizers: the State University of New York, the New York State Education Department and the New York City Education Department. However, state law no longer allows the city to authorize new charters.

Once you have gone through the appeals process with your charter school’s authorizer if you are still not happy with the outcome you can appeal to the New York State Board of Regents by calling (518) 474-3852. Their decision is considered final.

Do charter schools have parent associations, and how do I participate in one?

Many charter schools, like traditional public schools, have their own parent organizations and PTAs. A 2010 state law requires them to form parent groups, following complaints that some did not give parents enough opportunity to become involved.

The city's main group for parents is the Charter Parent Action Network sponsored by the New York City Charter School Center. The groups in the network focus on policy and financial issues, and serve as a vehicle to advocate for charter schools and charter school students.

This answer was researched, reported and written by Jessica Bell. To correct, improve or enhance an answer, e-mail