What is a charter school?
Charter schools are tuition-free, open-enrollment public schools that enjoy greater freedom in exchange for greater accountability. Under Indiana Code § 20-24, the purpose of charter schools is (1) to serve the different learning styles and needs of public school students, (2) to offer them appropriate and innovative choices, (3) to afford varied opportunities for professional educators, (4) to allow freedom and flexibility in exchange for exceptional levels of accountability, and (5) to provide parents, students, community members, and local entities with an expanded opportunity for involvement in the public school system.
Each charter school in Indiana has an independent school board that operates under a contract, or charter, from a state-approved charter school authorizer, or sponsor. In the case of Seven Oaks Classical School, our state-approved sponsor is Grace College.
Like other public schools, charter public schools have open-enrollment policies. No tuition is charged, and no tests are given to determine eligibility. Charter schools do not discriminate on the basis of disability, race, color, gender, national origin, religion, or ancestry.
Although public charter schools are exempt from some state and district regulations, they are held to high levels of accountability. In addition to meeting state and federal accountability requirements in Indiana (Public Law 221, Indiana's A-F Model, and No Child Left Behind), charter schools must also meet the requirements set out in their charter. An authorizer may revoke a school's charter at any time if the school is not fulfilling the terms of its charter. In addition, a charter school is subject to a rigorous review at the end of each charter term in order to determine whether or not the school's charter should be renewed.
Charter schools often use their freedom to innovate in their educational philosophy, academic programming, hiring practices, or other school policies (e.g., school calendar, use of technology, etc.). They are able to establish an academic program and policies that support the school's mission and goals. In this way, they provide meaningful choices to families looking for the best option for their children's education. By encouraging neighboring schools to compete, they tend to promote improvements in education for everyone.
Of course, charter schools are not a magic fix. There are good and bad charter schools, just as there are good and bad district schools and good and bad private schools. Successful charters must abide by universal best practices. They must have a sound philosophy, a clear mission, effective governance, talented leadership and staff, and a solid financial plan.