You’ve probably come across this ultimate guide to charter schools because you’re curious about public charter schools and whether they’d be a good fit for your son or daughter. Like millions of parents every year, you’re looking up schools near you to figure out what your options are and where your child will spend the next academic year. Talk about a big decision!
At School Choice Week, we strongly believe that parents are best equipped to make education decisions for their children, which is why we provide a guide to all school options, putting you in the driver’s seat. If charter schools make your shortlist, you’ll be in good company. Each year, millions of American families choose charter schools.
It is important that every child receives a quality education that suits their individual learning style. Public charter schools are a great way to ensure this. These schools are free, open to everyone, and provide a variety of options to meet the unique needs of each child.
We’ve put together this free starter guide to share a charter school definition, answer your charter school questions, link to resources in your state, and more. Click a button below to get started!
What do you need to know about public charter school choice?
Get the facts!
Sign up to learn even more about School Choice in your state!
"*" indicates required fields
What is a Charter School? (and more FAQ)
Charter school vs. public school: What is a charter school?
Charter schools are public schools that are created by school districts, colleges, nonprofit organizations, or other entities. These schools are allowed to determine many of their own policies and practices; the goal is to innovate within the public school system and provide options for public school families. Charter schools are always public schools and are not allowed to charge tuition. The first law enabling charter schools was passed in Minnesota in 1991. Thirty years later, there are about 7,800 charter schools in the U.S. serving about 7% of students nationwide.
Can charter schools be religious?
Public charter schools receive public funds and must follow many of the same laws as traditional public schools. There are not currently any religious charter schools open to students. However, in June 2023, Oklahoma approved the nation’s first religious charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, which plans to open in 2024.
Are charter school teachers certified?
For the most part, all or most teachers in public charter schools must be certified or licensed by the state to teach. Each state has its own teacher certification or licensure policies; some states do allow for alternate pathways to certification.
Can charter schools charge tuition?
Public charter schools do not charge tuition or entrance fees. As with other public schools, funding is paid by taxpayers in the form of local, state, and federal taxes. You can explore per-pupil spending for public schools, including charter schools, at Project Nickel.
In some cases, charter schools do not provide free transportation, so this may be worth asking about if you are considering a charter school.
Are charter schools nonprofit?
Public charter schools are operated by organizations, which a vast majority of the time are nonprofit.
Can a charter school be Title 1?
All charter schools are public schools, and are subject to the same Title I eligibility requirements as traditional public schools. If they meet the requirements, then they are eligible to receive Title 1 funding.
What is a charter school lottery?
In many places, there are more families who want to attend charter schools than there are seats allowed by state law or capacity in opened schools. When this happens, schools use lotteries to select which students to enroll from their waitlist.
A typical charter school lottery is ‘blind,’ meaning that every student who signs up has an equal chance of getting in. However, some schools do give preference to returning students, students with siblings attending the school, or at-risk groups, if social justice is a core mission of the school.
1. Explore your charter school options:
Your first step is to learn more about the charters located near you! You can use our free Schools Near Me tool to locate charter schools near your zip code. Or, see the state list below to learn about charters in your state. Each charter school has a different way of doing things, so you will need to find the best fit for your family! While charters still need to meet many of the public school regulations, they also have some freedom to decide how they want to run (the amount of freedom varies by state). Some charter schools are designed to meet the needs of specific populations of students (such as those interested in the arts or those with different learning styles) while others offer a specialized curriculum (Montessori, Classical curriculum, etc.). As you explore options, look for a school that will provide the individualized attention your child needs.
Next, reach out to the charter school that you feel would be a good fit for your family to get more information. Enrollment in charter schools varies by state – some have a specific window for open enrollment while others allow you to enroll in the charter school at any time (provided there is space for your student). Public charter schools must accept all students, regardless of their academic performance or needs.
When you reach out to the school you are interested in, you can ask to take a tour of the building and learn more about what is expected of students. Ask questions that will help you learn if this is the right fit for your family. For example: What is your approach to education? What makes your school unique? What are your school’s academic expectations for students?
3.Fill out an application:
Once you have decided on the charter school that will meet the needs of your student, ask how you fill out an application for enrollment. The school will let you know if there is anything else you need to do besides the paperwork. If there are more applicants to a school than available seats, a charter school may hold a random lottery to decide which students get to attend.
4.Enroll and get started:
Once your application has been accepted, the school will provide you with information regarding what they need prior to you joining the school. Some good questions to ask: How will my student’s records be transferred? Do I need to fill any paperwork out? What additional information do you need prior to the school year beginning? Also, be sure to let your previous school know that you will be transferring and ask them if there is anything you need to do on their end. As a parent/legal guardian, you can ask the school for a copy of your student’s educational record. If your student has any additional services, such as an intervention plan, Individualized Education Plan, 504 plan, or medical response plan, make sure that a copy of this information gets sent to the new school as well.
What options do you have for charter schools? Check out your state’s parent guide or scroll below to learn about charter schools near you.
As shown on this map, 46 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing for the creation of public charter schools. The number of students in charter schools has more than doubled in the last 10 years.
⬤ Permitted ⬤ Not permitted ⬤ Permitted, but none available yet
Source: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 2023; Independent research by NSCW
Alabama enacted a charter school law in 2015, but only had one charter school until 2018. That year, the state’s second charter school — University Charter, operated by the University of West Alabama — opened. As of 2023, Alabama has at least 14 operating charter schools, with more in the approval process. For example, Alabama’s first performing arts charter school is approved to open in 2024 in Mobile. Additionally, Alabama recently passed a law modifying its charter school law to encourage more growth.
If you’d like to learn more, check out New Schools for Alabama (Charter Schools) or the Alabama State Department of Education’s charter school resources.
Alaska passed charter school legislation in 1995 and currently has more than 30 charter schools that serve more than 7,000 students. For example, one of Alaska’s newest charter schools is Knik Cultural School, which offers Alaska Native culture and values-based learning opportunities, such as fishing, moose hunting, and berry picking!
Find frequently asked questions about Alaska charter schools at Alaska’s Department of Education & Early Development.
Arizona is one of the most choice-rich states; it has more than 500 charter schools that parents can choose from. In fact, at least 84% of Arizona students have access to at least one charter in their area. For more information on charter schools in your state, check out the Arizona Charter Schools Association. Families in the metro-Phoenix area may also be interested in Raising Arizona Kids’ annual guide to all nearby charters.
“Because we are not restricted by boundaries, we are able to welcome any family that is looking for something more than what their neighborhood school offers in a caring, wholesome environment. Many parents choose to be a part of something special with us because we provide an ‘A’ rated education and family-friendly amenities such as affordable before- and after- school childcare and free school supplies. We take pride in removing barriers to an excellent, tuition-free education.”Diana Dana, Director of Education at Benjamin Franklin Charter School
As of 2023, Arkansas has about 95 public charter schools for parents to choose from. In Arkansas there are both conversion schools and open-enrollment schools. Conversion schools are traditional public schools that have converted to charter schools. They usually only serve students within their district. Open-enrollment charter schools are run by a governmental entity, higher learning organization, or non-sectarian organization and can draw students from various districts. In 2023, the LEARNS Act eliminated a cap on the number of charter schools that can be opened by nonprofit organizations in the state, paving the way for more schools.
As Arkansas Department of Education puts it, “Beyond the two basic types of charters, the concepts put in place by a public charter school are as broad as the imagination.” For one example of what charter schools offer Arkansas families, check out LISA Academy, a system of high-performing STEM charter schools. Another Arkansas charter school we talked to, Founders Classical Academy, makes classical education available to families in a free, public school environment.
The first charter school in California opened in 1994 in San Carlos. Today, about one in nine of California’s public school students attend a charter school. The state has around 1,000 charter schools, which can be found in this school directory.
Each charter has a particular focus and strives to fill a unique role in the local community. When we interviewed the executive director of one of California’s largest charter schools, Granada Hills Charter School, we learned that the school serves students from 60 countries who, collectively, speak more than 40 languages! Meanwhile, one of California’s newest charter schools is California Republic Leadership Academy Capistrano, which focuses on classical education and leadership. For more info about California charters, check out The California Charter Schools Association.
You can learn more at the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Connecticut passed a charter school law in 1996 and now has more than 20 public charter schools that parents can choose from. While no new charter school has opened in the state since 2015, an all-boys charter school is currently in the pipeline to open in New Haven.
New for 2023: While Newark Enrolls has been a common application platform for traditional public schools and charter schools in the past, seven charter networks have now switched to a new enrollment platform called the Newark Common App. Families interested in North Star Academy, KIPP, Great Oaks Legacy, Marion P. Thomas, Achieve Community, People’s Preparatory, and Philip’s Academy should use the Newark Common App moving forward.
To learn more about charter options in your state, check out the Northeast Charter Schools Network.
Delaware passed charter school legislation in 1995. Today, Delaware has more than 20 active charter schools – you can find a complete list at the Department of Education. As of 2022, about 18,000 Delaware students attended charter schools, which is about 12% of the public school population.
To learn more, you can also check out The Delaware Charter Schools Network.
Families interested in submitting choice applications for participating charter schools in Delaware can do so online at SchoolChoiceDE.
Florida, one of the leading states in school choices, has more than 720 charter schools. Each school’s charter explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. Indian River Charter High School, for instance, provides unique training and opportunities for students interested in the performing arts. Tallahassee Collegiate Academy, one of Florida’s newest charters, is a STEM high school authorized by Tallahassee Community College.
You can find more information on Florida’s many public charter schools at the Florida Department of Education. You may also wish to check out The Florida Charter School Alliance and the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools.
Keep in mind that charter school students (and traditional public school students) in grades K-5 who are performing below grade level may be eligible for the state’s New World Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships and resources for students who need additional literacy or math support.
According to the Georgia Department of Education, there are currently 115 charter schools (not including schools within charter systems) in the state. One of the newest is Atlanta SMART Academy, one of only four performing arts middle schools in Georgia.
Charters are growing in Georgia! The State Charter Schools Foundation of Georgia was awarded a large grant by the U.S. Department of Education in 2022 to expand charter schools in the state.
Hawaii passed charter school legislation in 1994. As of 2019, Hawaii had more than 35 charter schools that families could choose from; you can find a list of Hawaii’s charter schools on the Hawaii State Department of Education website. The list includes charter schools focused on sustainability, the arts, technology, and more. One of the newest charter schools approved by the Public Charter School Commission is Namahama School, which plans to open in 2025.
Idaho passed charter school legislation in 1996. Today, Idaho has more than 50 brick-and-mortar charter schools, as well as several virtual charter schools, that parents can choose from. You can find a complete list at the Idaho Department of Education. Idaho’s charters are diverse. For example, one of the state’s newest charters, Elevate Academy Idaho Falls, offers career technical education for at-risk students.
As public school students, charter students have access to the state’s Advanced Opportunities program. Through this program, every public school student in Idaho is allocated $4,125 to use in grades 7-12. These funds can be used for dual credits, Advanced Placement Exam fees, professional certifications, workforce training, or other qualified expenses.
Illinois has more than 130 public charter schools, most of which are located in Chicago. These charter schools are free public schools that serve diverse student bodies. About 85% of Illinois charter school students receive free or reduced lunch, and about 14% are enrolled in special education.
Indiana opened its first eleven charter schools in 2002. Today, there are more than 110 charter schools across the state, providing an important tuition-free education option for families. Two of the state’s newest charter choices, for example, focus on celebrating Latino culture and addressing learning disparities.
Indiana’s charter schools may be authorized by a governing body, a college, or the Indiana Charter School Board. The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools has ranked Indiana the top state in the nation for having strong public charter school laws. Learn more about Indiana’s charter schools at the Indiana Charter Schools Network.
Iowa enacted a charter school law in 2003 and there are now five charter schools in the state, including a hybrid online school for students across Iowa. The newest charter school is Horizon Science Academy in Des Moines.
The state passed a charter school expansion law in 2021. Now, groups looking to start a charter school can apply directly to the state Department of Education for approval (rather than their local school board).
Depending on where you live in Kansas, you may also be able to choose a public charter school. Kansas charter school legislation passed in 1994. Today, Kansas has 9 public charter schools.
In 2017, Kentucky became the 44th state in the country to allow charter schools. However, no charter schools have opened in Kentucky so far due to the fact that permanent funding for charters was not approved until spring 2022. Now that funding measures have been approved, new charter schools may be approved soon, so stay tuned!
You can learn more at the Kentucky Department of Education.
In Louisiana, you can choose from about 150 charter schools. These schools can be opened after they are authorized by school districts or the state. Louisiana charter schools offer a rich variety of themes and learning styles. For example, one of the newest charter schools in Louisiana is Great Hearts Harveston, a classical school serving grades K-7.
For more information on charter schools in your state, check out the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.
Under Maine law, only 10 charter schools are currently able to operate in the state due to a charter school cap. Maine’s 10th charter school, The Ecology Learning Center, opened in 2020. However, one of Maine’s charter schools, Harpswell Coastal Academy, just closed at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, creating an opportunity for a new charter to open.
For more information on charter schools in your state, check out the Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools.
Massachusetts currently has more than 70 charter schools that parents can choose from. You can find a list of these schools at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Massachusetts’ newest charter school is Worchester Cultural Academy, which offers project-based learning and fieldwork in collaboration with museums and cultural organizations in central Massachusetts.
Michigan has more than 360 charter schools that families can consider. These schools can be opened after they are authorized by school districts or colleges and universities. One of the state’s newest charter schools is KIPP Detroit: Imani Academy, which opened in 2022 as a kindergarten program.
Michigan’s charters are diverse. For example, the West Michigan Aviation Academy even allows students to earn flight certifications and private pilot licenses! You can learn more from the Michigan Charter Schools Association.
In Minnesota, there are about 250 charter schools serving 65,000 children. The majority of charter schools are located in the greater Twin Cities metro area, but there are charters across the state.
Minnesota’s charters offer a diversity of learning styles. One charter school executive director we talked to told us about the Core Knowledge curriculum that is part of her school’s charter. “A Core Knowledge school gives kids information through oral telling, through experience, and we add on to their knowledge all the time,” described Lynn Peterson of Cologne Academy.
Learn more about Minnesota charter schools at the MN Association of Charter Schools.
2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the Mississippi Charter Schools Act. Currently, Mississippi has ten authorized charter schools serving about 3,000 students. These charter schools have diverse focuses that range from STEM to college prep. For example, the state’s newest charter school, Instant Impact Global Prep, focuses on STEM learning and community engagement.
Currently, Missouri only has charter schools in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. There are more than 60 charter schools between the two cities with focuses such as science, language immersion, and leadership. You can learn more about your state’s charter school options at Missouri Charter Public School Association.
In 2023, Montana became the 46th state in the country to officially pass allow charter school laws. So far, Montana has just one charter school, the Bozeman Charter School, which currently offers remote learning and in-person field trips for students in grades 3-8.
You can read more about Montana’s new charter laws in our full explainer.
Nebraska does not offer any charter choices at present. Nebraska is one of only four states that has not passed laws allowing for the creation of public charter schools.
In Nevada, there are about 90 charter schools that families can choose from. These schools serve about 55,000 students across the state and offer programs that range from early college high schools to STEM middle schools.
In Nevada, public charter schools don’t currently receive state transportation funding, so in many cases families must transport their charter students. A great resource for learning about Nevada’s many charter schools is the Charter School Association of Nevada.
In New Hampshire, there are about 30 public charter schools that parents can choose from across the state. These served 5,530 students in 2022-2023. These schools are authorized either by school districts or the state.
The New Hampshire Department of Education is currently in the process of supporting an expansion of charter schools across the state. One of New Hampshire’s newest charter schools is Benjamin Franklin Academy, a middle-high school opening in Loudon with a history-centered, liberal arts curriculum.
You can learn about these options at the New Hampshire Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
According to the New Jersey Department of Education, the state has about 90 charter schools in operation serving approximately 57,000 students. You can search these charter schools by county at the New Jersey Department of Education. Families in Newark may also wish to explore charter schools using My Schools Newark.
Many New Jersey charter schools have had waitlists in the past. In January 2023, the New Jersey Department of Education approved 11 charter school expansions, which will open an additional 2,299 charter school seats for students across nine cities and towns.
Check out more about your state’s charter schools at the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association.
New Mexico has about 100 charter schools that parents can choose from; these schools serve nearly 30,000 students. You can find a directory of charter schools and authorizers in the state at the New Mexico Public Education Department. Charters are especially popular in Santa Fe, where nearly 1 in 4 students attend a charter school.
Learn more about charter school options in your state from Public Charter Schools of New Mexico.
New York’s first charter school opened in 1999 in Harlem. Today, there are more than 350 charter schools across the state, with many of these located in New York City. Currently there is a cap limiting the number of charter school licenses available in New York City. As part of New York’s budget passed in 2023, up to 14 new charters can be opened in New York City, and up to eight elsewhere in the state.
Learn more about charter options at the Northeast Charter Schools Network or at New York Family’s 2023 Charter School Guide. If you’re in the Buffalo area, you can apply to multiple charter schools at one time at Enroll Buffalo Charters.
The 2022-2023 school year marked 25 years since charter schools first opened in North Carolina. Today, the state has about 200 public charter schools and more than 8% of public school students attend a charter school. Six charter schools are approved to open in 2024.
Also, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is currently in the process of implementing a grant to promote diversity in charter schools.
To learn more, check out the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools.
North Dakota is one of only four states that have not yet passed laws allowing public charter schools. While North Dakota families cannot yet choose public charters, this may be an option in the future.
In Ohio, charter schools are commonly referred to as “Community Schools.” Community schools or charter schools have been allowed in Ohio since 1997. Today there are more than 300 such schools. Ohio charters offer a variety of themes, from online learning to STEM. One of the newest charter schools in Ohio is Cincinnati Classical Academy, which recently opened for K-7 students across 52 zip codes.
If your child attends an Ohio charter, they may soon receive additional funding. Ohio’s most recent budget provides for brick-and-mortar community schools to receive an extra $650 per pupil in 2024 and 2025, as well as extra funding for facilities (like buildings and classrooms).
In the late 1990s, Oklahoma passed a bill allowing charter schools to be authorized by school districts in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties. Today, charters can be authorized by any school district and are available in many parts of Oklahoma. Families can currently choose from about 60 public charter schools, including both brick-and-mortar schools and online charters. One of the state’s newest charters is Tulsa Classical Academy, which offers classical education and character formation for Tulsa students in grades K-8.
You can learn more at the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association.
Today, Oregon families can choose from more than 130 public charter schools. The state first passed charter school legislation in 1999. Oregon’s charter options are diverse, ranging from Arco Iris Spanish Immersion School in Beaverton to Baker Early College in Bend.
You can learn more at the League of Oregon Charter Schools.
Pennsylvania families can choose from more than 180 public charter schools, including several cyber charter schools. Pennsylvania’s charter options range from community schools serving local rural populations to schools focused on mentoring and professional development. You can read about these options at the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.
Rhode Island families can currently choose from about 35 public charter schools. The state first passed charter school legislation in 1995. Charter schools may be authorized by school districts, nonprofit organizations, colleges, or even the mayor of a city or town.
The application period for charter school enrollment in Rhode Island is typically late-November through mid-March. In 2022, a record number of families applied to Rhode Island charters — schools received 23,263 applications for 2,353 available seats!
Learn more about Rhode Island’s charter options at The Rhode Island League of Charter Schools.
South Carolina passed charter school legislation in 1996. Today, South Carolina families can choose from more than 80 charter schools, including several virtual charter schools. Charter school enrollment has been on the rise in South Carolina the last five years. At least four new charter schools opened in fall 2023, with 13 more approved to open.
You can learn more about charter options at the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina.
South Dakota is one of only four states that have not yet passed laws allowing public charter schools. While South Dakota families cannot yet choose public charters, this may be an option in the future. You can sign up for updates at South Dakota Charter Schools.
Tennessee has more than 110 public charter schools, many of them in Memphis. Tennessee’s first charter school, Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, was founded in 2003. Today, Tennessee’s charter schools serve more than 38,000 children.
You can learn more about your state’s charter options at the TN Charter School Center.
Texas has had charter schools as an option for more than 20 years. Parents can choose from more than 700 charter schools in Texas.
Utah has more than 130 charter schools that parents can choose from; check out a map of these charter schools. Utah’s charter schools are diverse, focusing on everything from leadership to international studies to sports.
You can learn more from The Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. You can also read frequently asked questions about charter schools at the Utah State Board of Education, one of the authorizers for charter schools.
Vermont is one of only four states that have not yet passed laws allowing public charter schools. While Vermont families cannot yet choose public charters, this may be an option in the future!
Virginia passed charter school legislation in 1998. Today, Virginia has seven public charter schools. These include Patrick Henry School of Science and the Arts in Richmond, which focuses on the liberal arts, and Green Run Collegiate in Virginia Beach, which focuses on global citizenship and community leading.
In 2023, the Governor’s Office announced plans to develop more than a dozen public “lab schools.” While not charter schools, these lab schools will share some common features. They will be public schools with extra freedom to develop alternative and innovative learning programs.
There are currently more than15 operating charter schools in Washington, serving nearly 5,000 students. A charter may be an option for you if you live in Bremerton, Midway, Tukwila, Seattle, Vancouver, Renton, Bellingham, Walla Walla, Pullman, Wenatchee, or Spokane. One of the state’s newest charter schools is Rooted School in Vancouver, which aims to graduate students with “a diploma in one hand, a job offer in the other.”
You can learn more at the Washington State Charter Schools Association.
West Virginia passed legislation authorizing charter schools in 2019. In 2021, the state passed a law creating a new authorizer for charter schools. It also expanded the number of charter schools that could be established in a three-year period from three to 10 schools and allowed for up to two statewide virtual charter schools.
Excitingly, West Virginia now has five charter schools open to students. These include three brick-and-mortar schools – Eastern Panhandle Preparatory Academy in Jefferson County, West Virginia Academy in the greater Morgantown area, and the Workforce Initiative for Nurses (WIN Academy) in the Kanawha Valley. Two virtual charter schools are also available– Virtual Prep Academy and West Virginia Virtual Academy. More charter options may be on the way – two new schools are authorized to open in fall 2024!
As of the 2022-2023 school year, Wisconsin families can choose from more than 230 public charter schools. One of the state’s newest schools is Wisconsin Innovation Academy in Wauwatosa, which focuses on International Baccalaureate and STEM programming.
In 2023, Wisconsin passed a bill to increases the amount of funding that charter schools receive per pupil. You can read more about charters at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s charter school page.
Wyoming passed charter school legislation in 1995. The state currently has at least five charter schools; these are located in Riverton, Laramie, Chugwater, and Cheyenne. Another charter school, Cheyenne Classical Academy, is approved to open in fall 2024. In Wyoming, charter schools must be authorized by a local district or the new Wyoming Charter School Authorizing Board.
Charter school legislation for Washington, D.C. was signed into law in 1996. Today, there are more than 100 charter schools in the district. You can apply to participating public charter schools through the My School DC Public School Lottery, and you can find a complete list of D.C. Public Charter Schools.
Learn more at the D.C. Charter School Alliance.
The information in this ultimate guide to charter schools is designed to help families who are considering charter schooling in their decision-making process. Our mission is to provide families with the information they need about all the school options available – traditional public, public charter, public magnet, private, online, and at home – so they can choose the right fit for their child. Read more guides about choosing other types of schools.