The following are answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding Tennessee charter schools and the opportunities they provide for students, educators, schools, and communities. The answers to these FAQs are provided by the Tennessee Charter Schools Association (TCSA) and are intended to provide only an introductory overview of key issues.  If you would like more information about the questions below or any other question, please visit: www.tncharterschools.org/faqs

What is a Charter School? 

A charter school is a free, nonsectarian, innovative public school that controls its own curriculum, staffing, organization, and budget. Charter schools are designed to deliver a unique program tailored to meet the needs of the students they serve. In exchange for their autonomy, charter schools must deliver the academic results they have promised in their charter contract.

Does Tennessee have Charter Schools?
Tennessee's charter school law was passed in 2002. Since then, 41 schools have opened and serve approximately 10,000 students. For the 2011-12 school year there were twenty-six charter schools in operating in Memphis with 6,300 scholars (about 6% of the districts students) attending charter schools. 

Is a Charter School a Public School?
Yes. Tennessee's charter school law states that public charter schools are part of the state public education system and receive public funding through the Basic Education Program. Charter schools are open to the public, including students with special needs and the schools must comply with all federal laws.

How Do Charter Schools Differ From Traditional District Public Schools?
Although Tennessee charter schools are public schools, there are important differences. Generally, charter schools operate on three principles:

Accountability: Charter schools are evaluated on how well they meet the student achievement goals established by their charter contract. Charter schools must also demonstrate that they can meet rigorous fiscal and managerial standards. If a charter school cannot perform up to established standards, it can be closed by the charter authorizer, which is the local education agency (LEA).
Choice: Charter schools give families an opportunity to choose the school that best suits their child's educational well-being. Moreover, teachers, staff, and the principal have an opportunity to create and work at schools where they have the power to directly shape the learning environment and atmosphere that best serves their students.

Autonomy: While charter schools must adhere to many of the laws and regulations that govern traditional district public schools, they are freed from the bureaucracy that often diverts a school's energy and resources away from the mission of the school. As a result, charter school leaders can focus all of their efforts on setting and reaching high academic standards for their students.
An important inequity to note is that charter schools do not receive separate funds to cover their facility needs. As a result, charter schools must seek additional funding from the private sector, engage in other fundraising efforts, or make undesirable budget cuts. Many charter proponents are pushing for legislation that equals the playing field in terms of funding for charter schools.

What Programs do Charter Schools Offer?
Some charter school programs focus on academic basics - reading, writing, and math and science. Other schools have chosen to implement specialized curriculums such as performing arts, technology, science and engineering, and health science. Although most charter schools resemble traditional public schools, charter schools have the flexibility to customize their programs to serve a community in need. For example, in some places in the country, there are charter schools that focus on dropout prevention programs, adult education programs, Head Start and day care needs, and college-preparation. The compelling aspect of Tennessee's charter schools is that they offer parents a wide range of programs.

Is there a Cap on the Number of Charter Schools?
No.  In 2011 Governor Bill Haslam signed a new law that removed the cap on the number of charter schools that can exist.

Why Are Charter Schools Attractive?
There are many reasons why charters have become popular with parents, teachers, and community leaders. First, charters provide educational quality. Charter schools were created with a vision that every child should have access to a quality education. Charters set high standards and must meet them to remain open. Many district public schools remain open no matter how poorly they perform. In exchange for accountability, meaning high student achievement, charter schools are given freedom to control all aspects of their school. If they fail to meet high standards, the school will not be allowed to continue operating.

Second, charter schools focus on students. Charter schools are designed to meet the needs of children, not to meet the needs of adults. Tennessee's charter schools are proving that when the focus is truly on the students and programs are designed to help them succeed, no matter what it takes, students and their families win.

Third, charters provide safe, strong communities. Tennessee's charter schools are engaging local businesses and community organizations to help provide resources and services to the school and its families. Some charter schools are creating a community hub, whether it is turning an inner-city neighborhood plagued with poverty and crime into a bustling and safer neighborhood or bringing families in rural America together. Regardless of their focus, charter schools are proving that they are strengthening their communities.

Who Can Start a Charter Schools?
Any individual or organization is eligible to submit a charter application and operate a charter school, provided the individual or group has registered a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization to sponsor the charter school. Many charter schools have been started by groups of concerned parents, educators, and community members who have seen a need for a high quality educational alternative and have been committed to creating it.

Who Runs a Charter School?
One of the innovations of charter schools is the fiscal and managerial independence it allows. At each of Tennessee's charter schools, the management structure has been created to implement individualized learning programs and goals. However, there is one structure that each school shares: the Charter School Board.

Every charter school is required by law to have a Board of Directors. The Board is ultimately responsible for the school, its results, and its operations. Legally, the board oversees the operations of the school and ensures that it is financially sound and is in compliance with the state and local laws.

Veritas College Preparatory Charter School prepares Memphis students in grades five through eight to excel in high school and college as accomplished scholars and to contribute to their communities as ethical leaders.
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