Charter Schools vs Public Schools: What’s the Difference?

By | February 15, 2024

Charter Schools vs Public Schools – Do you like schools where you have to wear a badge and get in line? Do you prefer schools where you can just walk in and be accepted? charter schools are for you! These schools are specifically designed to allow parents to choose the school their children attend, without having to worry about the quality of the curriculum or the staff. In fact, some of the best charter schools are in areas with low crime rates and high populations.

Charter Schools vs Public Schools: What's the Difference?

In some places, charter schools are seen as the best option for children. They offer a flexible curriculum, often with more focus on creativity and problem-solving than in traditional public schools. Some parents find that charter schools are more affordable and provide more opportunities for creativity and innovation. Others believe that charter schools don’t have enough connection to real-world communities and are less effective than traditional public schools in terms of student achievement. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of charter schools vs public schools, and see which one might be right for your child.


There are a lot of people who say that charter schools are the best way to learn. They claim that charter schools are accountable, they have more choice, and they’re better for the environment. But is this really the case? Let’s take a closer look at some of the key reasons why charter schools often perform lower than public schools.

Why charter schools are better than public schools?

Charter schools are better than public schools because they have a strong focus on education. Charter schools provide the opportunity for students to learn at their own pace and in a setting that is tailored to their needs. This allows them to be creative, creative thinkers and educators. In addition, charter schools tend to have smaller classes, which gives each student more time to learn. And finally, charter schools are typically much more innovative than public schools. This means they are able to innovate in ways that public schools cannot.
Charter schools are better than public schools because they are:
1. More efficient – Charters spend less on education, staff, and other resources than public schools. This allows them to focus on teaching students’ unique needs.
2. More diverse – Charter schools are more likely to offer a variety of programs and experiences that match the interests and needs of their students. This allows for a more personalized education experience for each student.
3. More affordable – Charter schools are typically much cheaper than public schools, which makes them a good option for parents who want to improve their child’s education but don’t have the money to pay for a traditional school system.

What is a Charter School?

A charter school is a school that is not a traditional school. A charter school is different than a public school, which is a school that is open to all students. A charter school is also different than an private school, which is a school that is open to only certain students.

Charter schools are public schools! But, it is a different kind of public school. Charter schools are schools that receive public funds, are started by charter (or contracts), and are semi-autonomous. This means that although charter schools operate under a written contract with a state, district, or sponsor, they are independent of the school district’s laws and regulations.


Charter schools receive state funding on a fixed, per-pupil basis and they are responsible for managing these funds.

Charter schools draw up their own set of rules and performance standard that the state educational body hold them accountable to. Hence, charter schools can do the following with ease:

  • Adjust their curricula and class materials to fit students’ needs.
  • Create a theme or an overall focus for their curricula. For example, they can choose to focus on STEM education, performing arts, college prep, or language immersion.
  • Vary the concept of their physical classroom and allow students to access online classes.

All these are possible for charter schools because of the way it is formed. To form a charter school, a group of people such as parents, community leaders, school districts, or municipalities will come together to design and submit a charter.

An authorizer, which can be a state board of education, education agencies, higher education institutions, etc, will then review the charter and approve it.

Hence, the performance of the charter school is the responsibility of the authorizers. Additionally, charter schools must seek renewal every few years.

If you’re in your finals in a charter or traditional public high school, it is important that you see these Tips on how to study for finals | College & High School

What is Traditional Public School?

Public schools hold different meanings in different countries. In some countries, a public school is a no-fee school in which the government funds and operates. In India, public schools are a group of historically elite schools that charges fees and are privately owned and managed.

A public school can also be a charter school like you’ve seen above. This is the case in the United States and Canada. So, just like charter schools, public schools receive funding from the government but are not operated by the government.

Public school can also be a public university; which is a university, especially in the USA, that the government operates. It is different from privately owned schools. Public schools in this respect also include high schools and secondary schools.

Public high schools are our main emphasis here as there are just a handful of charter universities in the USA. These schools don’t have the kind of flexibility that charter schools have. They must adhere to education standards that the state education board sets. They are also not exempted from any state, federal, or local laws regarding education.

Now we know what charter and traditional schools are, let’s see how they differ.

Charter Schools vs Public School Differences

Before we get right into the charter schools vs public school differences, let’s talk about the similarities.

One of the similarities between charter schools and public schools is that they both are free for students to attend. They do not charge tuition. Another of their similarities is that they don’t discriminate against the students they admit. Hence, they do not give students admission based on entrance exams.

Additionally, charter schools and public schools must show accountability by taking state tests and participating in federal accountability programs. Lastly, they both receive state funding.

Now, on their differences, we’ll use the next subheadings to discuss them:


We know that charter schools have a level of flexibility, but does that mean that they have no regulation?

There is no central body regulating charter schools, hence they are not strictly regulated. They are independently run and must meet the standards set in their “charter.” It is by meeting these standards that they are able to secure funding to operate. Thus, they must maintain standards as rigorous (if not more rigorous) as public schools.

On the other hand, public schools are regulated by the laws of the state school board. They must follow these laws and regulations to receive funding.


Remember that both charter and public schools do not discriminate against the students that they admit. However, admission still differs between both of them.

For charter schools, students have to apply. Where the charter school has met its student gap, the school conducts a random lottery for enrollment.

A student who doesn’t get picked in the lottery does not gain admission. This case and the case where the student does not meet grade or attendance requirements are the only instances where charter schools deny admission.

Public schools, on the other hand, are free to all students living within the local school district. These students don’t have to apply to attend public school. The matter is different if a public school is an open enrollment school. If it is an open enrollment school, parents from other districts can choose to send their kids there.

Curriculum Flexibility

Charter schools operate a flexible curriculum in that they can alter their course material to meet a student’s needs. This freedom comes from the fact that they are exempted from a good number of the local, state, and federal laws that govern public schools.

However, in its flexibility, charter schools do not offer many electives. This is because they are electives in themselves. They mostly offer specific courses that meet children’s needs.

Public schools, on the other hand, cannot maintain a flexible curriculum. The state education board decides a public school’s curriculum and the local school district executes it. Unlike charter schools, public schools offer several electives. They often merge their graduation requirements with these electives.

Social Life

Due to the small class size classes of charter schools, it provides a more relaxed educational system to its students. Thus, the kids are able to build friendships that will last long. Charter schools also operate a family-settings kind of education that allows older students to help younger students.

On the downside, charter schools usually don’t have many sports facilities. However, they can join the larger public schools in their district by sharing their sports facilities.

Public schools, on the other hand, may have large classes than charter schools. This increases the avenue for greater social interaction as well as better prepares the students for the social pressures of college.

Public schools also have greater sports opportunities, community groups, and other after-school activities that help students to broaden their boundaries.

Who funds Charter Schools vs Public Schools?

Another angle of the charter school vs public school debate that clarifies their difference is the funding. Both of them receive funding from the government but charters schools are administered like privately-owned schools while public schools are not.

So, charter schools receive funding from state tax income, grants, awards, and donations. Public schools, on the other hand, receive funding from the federal government, state government, and local government (taxes). They also receive funding from grants, awards, donations.

How Much Money is Spent on Students in Charter Schools vs Public School?

With the public school vs charter school funding comes the argument on how much money is spent on students. Charter schools and public schools get their funding through government tax income via a per-student approach. The charter school vs public school debate is now who receives more funding per student.

Charter schools believe they receive less because they have fewer students than traditional public schools. On the other hand, public schools are losing students to charter schools. The resultant effect of this is that while they lose the fund per head of students leaving, their fixed costs remain the same. So, they argue that they are not getting enough government funding compared to Charter Schools.

However, according to the Fordham Institute, charter schools received 76% less funding from their own cities on average. This translates to about $8,000 fewer funds per student. Fordham stated that as a matter of fact, six cities didn’t give dollars to their local charter schools.

Meanwhile, Charter schools make up for these inadequate fundings through private donations. They receive more private donations than public schools. But donations take just a little fraction of every school’s annual budget. Thus, the per-pupil advantage which charter school has over public school is only about $655. This does little or nothing in covering the funding gap between charter and public schools, however.

So, the charter school vs public school debate goes on until there’s an even ground for both.

Which is Better to Work for, Charter Schools or Public Schools?

The answer to his part of the charter school vs public school debate depends on the teacher’s teaching preference. If you love to teach a small class, you would find working in a charter school better than working in a public school.

This part of the debate also has to do with the teaching qualifications. You don’t necessarily need to be certified to teach in a charter school but this differs from state to state. Meanwhile, some charter schools others may ask for higher qualifications in a specialized field if you’ll be teaching a specialty field. They would relax the requirements, however, if you’ll be teaching core subjects.

Public schools, on the other hand, require teachers to meet all state-mandated requirements and be highly proficient in their subject area. For example, Massachusetts requires its teachers to achieve Highly Qualified Teachers status. This means that you must have at least a BA with a major in the subject you’re teaching. Most times, some teachers go ahead to grab a master’s degree.

In this case, it will take a longer time to meet the qualification to become a teacher in a public school, making it harder to teach there than a charter school.

Charter Schools vs Public School Facts

While you’ve gotten some adequate knowledge about charter schools vs public schools, let’s look at some fast facts!

  • As of 2016–17, about 2/3 of charter schools in the USA were stand-alone schools that groups or organizations like groups of teachers, community groups, and universities created and operated.
  • The first law allowing the establishment of charter schools was passed in Minnesota in 1991, and the first charter school opened in the same Minnesota state in 1992.
  • More than 2.8 million students attended charter schools in 2015–16, meaning that approximately 6% of all public school students in the USA are in charter schools.
  • Student enrollment in charter schools grew more than 70% from 2009–10 to 2015–16.
  • In 2015-15, 50% of the students in public schools were white, while 15% were blacks. On the other hand, 33% of students in public schools were white, while 27% were blacks.
  • In 2014-15, 50% of students in traditional public schools were from low-income households while 55% of students in charter schools were from low-income households.
  • 91% of all schools in the US are traditional public schools

Source: In Perspective & Niche.

How Many Charter Schools are in the USA vs Public Schools in the USA?

While you’ve seen part of this section in charter schools vs public school facts, let’s treat it here exhaustively.

As of 2016-17, there were about 6,900 public charter schools in 42 states in the USA and the District of Columbia. These schools had a combined number of students of approximately 3.1 million students. This number interpreted a sixfold increase in charter school enrollment over the past 15 years.

In 2015 alone, there were more than 400 new charter schools while 270 charter schools closed due to a number of factors. These factors include low enrollment, lack of finances, and low performance. Waiting lists grew from an average of 233 in 2009 to 277 in 2012, with places allocated by a lottery.

On the other hand, according to the National Center for Education Statistics NCES, as of 2015-16, there were 132,853 K-12 schools in the U.S. The breakdown of this is as follows:

  • All Schools: 132,853
  • Elementary schools: 88,665
  • Secondary schools: 26,986
  • Combined schools: 16,511
  • Others: 691

Remember that charter schools are also public schools. Therefore this total of 132,853 also comprises charter schools. But for the sake of the charter school vs public school debate, here’s the breakdown of the number of charter and public schools in the USA.

  • Traditional public schools: 91,147 
  • Public charter schools: 7,011
  • Private schools: 34,576 

While traditional public schools are more than charter schools, more states in the USA are accepting charter schools. As of January 2018, laws allowing the creation of charter schools have been passed in 44 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

Charter Schools Performance vs Public Schools

The most heated part of the charter school vs public school debate is their academic performance. It is for this reason that some parents still relent on sending their kids to charter schools.

Over the years, traditional public schools have produced academically sound students and have gained parents’ trust. Is this the same for charter schools?

Some experts have carried out research based on test scores to analyze charter vs public school performance. One such expert is the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. CREDO’s research revealed that based on students’ test scores public schools were outperforming charter schools.

CREDO Compared reading and math state-based standardized test scores between charter school and public school students in 15 states and the District of Columbia. They found that 37% of charter schools posted improvements in math scores. However, these improvement rates were low compared to the improvement rates of their counterparts in public schools.

Meanwhile, another 46% of charter schools experienced improvements in maths that were just the average improvement rates of public school students.

These statistics may differ by state because according to a story by the Chicago Tribune, charter school students in Chicago are doing well. Their students are showing better performance in both math and English than their public school counterparts.

Besides, some charter schools, due to the flexibility of their curriculum, effectively groom students with a particular talent for arts, technology, or music. So, if you take a little break from judging charter schools by performances in maths and English, you would give charter schools some credit.

The debate on charter vs public school performance never ends as some believe charter schools’ curricula favor only high achieving students. Thus, charter schools can’t match public schools for extensive special needs programs.

It doesn’t matter if Charter school’s performance is poor, you too can graduate and enter college if you study these 15 Tips on How to Improve ACT Scores.

Charter Schools vs Public Schools Pros and Cons?

Finally, we’re winding down to the end of the charter school vs public school argument. Which school would you rather send your kid to, public or charter?

To fortify your decision, here are some pros and cons of the two kinds of schools.

Pros of Public School

The following are the strength of traditional public schools:

  • Their location is usually convenient for students in the district and they oftentimes provide transport to and from school for their students living in the district.
  • They offer a variety of clubs, activities, and after-school programs that their students can take part in.
  • They attract more qualified teachers as their teachers are required to be certified by the state.
  • Public schools make it possible for children to attend the same school as their friends and neighbors living in the same district with them.
  • They are absolutely free to attend; parents don’t have to pay tuition for their kids to attend school.

Cons of Public School

While public schools offer these beauties, here are some things you may not like about public schools:

  • The class size at public schools is fairly large and this may limit the amount of personal attention your child gets from the teachers.
  • Government funding for creative and extra-curricular programs at public schools may not support some areas vital to your kid’s development.
  • Public schools are largely criticized for focusing on teaching their students to pass standardized tests rather than on more holistic education.
  • With its one-size-fits-all kind of academic curriculum, public schools do not always offer programs for students who are academically advanced or who have learning challenges.

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Pros of Charter Schools

If the cons of public schools are too weighty for you to choose it for your kids, here are some good features your kid may enjoy at charter schools:

  • Charter schools are usually small, so your kid can actually feel at home with its family atmosphere.
  • The small class size of charter schools ensures that your kid gets the individual attention he needs from his teachers to develop fast.
  • With its curriculum flexibility, charter schools can easily provide your kid with a unique way of learning that will suit his/her abilities.
  • Despite the fact that some charter schools do not require teachers to be certified, charter schools attract qualified teachers nonetheless.
  • Because the class size is small and the teachers grow a personal relationship with the kids, there are fewer discipline problems in charter schools.

Cons of Charter School

Now you’ve seen the pros of charter schools, you should also know the cons. They are as follows:

  • Charter schools may not provide transportation for your kids to and from school, so you may have to transport them yourself.
  • Charter schools are always crying for low funds, so your child may not have access to some of the best facilities available because of low funds.
  • Since charter schools are not large, they may not comprise diverse students.
  • There are usually fewer sports and extracurricular activities in Charter Schools due to inadequate facilities and infrastructure.
  • Since charter schools operate on a contract basis, they are not very stable. Some have even shut down because of mismanagement.
  • Charter schools are largely criticized for not working with disabled students.
  • Gaining entrance into school by lottery, as is the style of charter schools, can prove frustrating.


The charter school vs traditional school debate is a long debate that will never end. The good thing you must pick up from it though is that charter schools increase your options of providing education to your kids.

Charter schools are free, they operate with a certain level of autonomy, and they can choose to be flexible with their curriculum. It is a great option for you if you have a kid with advanced academic needs, who would love to specialize in areas like music, drawing, etc.

On the other hand, charter schools could be a horrible option for you if your kid is a sportsman. Inadequate funding and low focus on sporting activities, and poor academic performance are issues that plight charter schools.

Still, we believe these are not enough to sway you from sending your kid to a charter school. You surely should’ve found more reasons in this post to build your decision on the kind of school your children should attend.


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