Charter schools are independently run public schools that provide a free elementary and/or secondary education to students under a specific charter granted by a state, and are increasingly becoming a popular option for military families. Currently, 42 states and the District of Columbia have legislation allowing for charter schools and there are eight charter schools located on military installations in the United States. The eight charters currently operating on a military installation are:
As a public school, charter schools do not charge tuition. Charters are open to any eligible student and are required to conduct a lottery if applications exceed capacity.
Charter Schools and Traditional Public Schools
Charter schools can provide another option for families and serve as an alternative to existing public schools. Free from some state regulations in exchange for greater accountability requirements, charter schools have the ability to try innovative approaches to improving student achievement. Some innovative approaches include creating a unique school culture, adjusting curriculum to meet student's needs, providing a virtual learning environment, and a longer school day, to name a few possible differences.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NACPS) reports that there were 361 charter schools considered virtual or virtual and hybrid (online and face-to-face) in 2009-10 and 451 charters with extended learning time in 2008-09.Some charter schools also require parent contracts, pay teachers in part on performance, and choose their own curriculums based upon the focus and/or goals of the charter.
The National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) has a number of excellent resources, including a frequently asked questions page that has more information on charter schools. They also have a section specifically devoted to military families with current articles related to the charter schools on military installations, as well as reports and resources.
The NCSRC also has a page devoted to helping individuals start a charter school that includes links to state organizations and toolkits from support organizations.
The Department of Defense and Charter Schools
The Department of Defense Education Activity, in response to the Senate Appropriations Committee Report 112-29 (which accompanies H.R. 2055, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2012), developed a report that was finalized in August, 2012, on the charter schools located on military installations. This report contains an overview of charter schools in the United States (U.S.), and a profile of these charter schools, except LEARN 6 North Chicago, which opened after the report was released.
The report identified a few challenges that some of the charter school founders overcame in starting the schools. For example, installation security requirements for off-base families is a critical issue to address, along with facility requirements (e.g. new build, leasing), and how to serve and enroll military-connected students with state requirements for open lotteries when capacity is reached.
There are also limitations on the activity of military personnel in starting a charter school and working in their official capacity. Two other challenges that apply to anyone trying to start a charter include reduced student funding for students in charter schools and lack of facility funding. The NAPCS reports that charters receive 78% of the total funding per student that normally goes to a school district. Additionally, many states do not provide funds for charters to obtain building space.
The Department of Defense is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Education to develop strategies for supporting individuals and parties seeking to start a charter school on a military installation.
Government Accountability Office Report on Charter Schools
In response to a directive in a House Appropriations Committee report, GAO examined: (1) the characteristics and origins of charter schools on military installations, and (2) the challenges charter schools on military installations have faced in starting up and continuing their operations. To conduct this review, GAO interviewed officials in the eight charter schools on domestic military bases and one school being planned; visited two schools; interviewed Education and DOD officials; and reviewed relevant federal and state laws, federal regulations and guidance, and school, federal agency, and other documents.
The report examined the eight charter schools listed above and cited several challenges to starting up and operating a charter school on military bases, such as using enrollment preferences for military-connected students, providing civilian access to schools, and obtaining facilities. To view all the findings, recommendations, and the full report, go to the website.
If you are interested in information and resources about charter schools on military installations, please contact us for more information.