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Charter Schools


A charter school is a privately run, but publicly funded school. It is called a charter school because it exists through an agreement – or charter – with a public school district or with the state's Department of Education. The charter establishes the philosophy of the school. For example, some charter schools have a focus on the arts, technology, or science. Students cannot be compelled to attend a charter school; enrollment is by family choice. Charter schools may not charge students to attend and may not teach religion. While most charter schools are physical structures, some are what is known as "cyber charter schools." A cyber charter school uses technology (for example, the internet) to teach and evaluate students.

Federal law gives states the power to determine regulations for charter schools. Thus charter schools will vary significantly from state to state. However, because charter schools receive federal funding, many federal education laws pertaining to public schools in general also apply to charter schools. These include most provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Charter schools, including cyber charter schools, are responsible for conducting evaluations and ensuring that a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is available to each child who qualifies for special education services or for services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Charter schools may adopt an existing Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan or may develop a new one. A charter school may provide services itself or may contract with a local school district, intermediate unit, or another service provider to provide the necessary services. The services, including transportation, are paid for by the child's home school district or by the state Department of Education, although Medical Assistance funding may also be used. Charter schools may not exclude students with disabilities, if the students are otherwise qualified to attend based on the school's charter and express admissions criteria.

If disagreements arise with the special education services provided by a charter school, parents have the same procedural safeguards afforded to students who attend public schools. Similarly, charter schools must follow the same disciplinary procedures required of public schools when disciplining students with disabilities. Parents may withdraw their child from a charter school and enroll their child in a local public or other school at any time.

In Pennsylvania and other states, charter school students may participate in their local school district's extracurricular activities to the same extent and with the same conditions as students who attend a traditional public school within the district. School districts cannot give preference to district students over charter school students. The school district may charge the charter school if a charter student takes part in district extracurricular activities, but the student may not be charged except to the extent district students are also charged.

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