About Charter Schools

How do charter schools work? 

Charter schools are public schools operating under an independent contract or “charter” with an authorizing agency—typically a non-profit organization, government agency or university.  The charter provides the school with operational autonomy to pursue specific educational objectives regarding curriculum, staff, and budget. It also holds them accountable to the same (often higher) standards of their district public school peers. 

Are charter schools public schools? 

Yes, charter schools are public schools governed by a board of directors. Charter schools provide a high-quality education option to public school students, upholding high standards that meet and often exceed the district and state metrics.  Charter school boards may have education management organizations agreements that provide the day-to-day operations of the school or they may be independent.

How do I enroll my child in a charter school? 

Most charter schools have an enrollment period when parents can submit applications for the school. If there are more applications submitted than seats available, they will hold a randomized blind lottery. 

Do charter schools have attendance boundaries? 

Charter schools approved under any state-wide authorizer do not have traditional school boundaries like district schools.  Any student who lives in South Carolina is allowed to attend any charter school to which the student has been accepted in the lottery. 

Are charter schools nonprofits? 

Yes, before applying to be a charter school, the planning committee must apply to be a nonprofit under the Secretary of State’s office.   

How can I start a charter school? 

Charter schools can be started by any interested party, including parents, community members, and teachers.  Charter school planning committees must include one teacher by SC Charter School Law.  Once formed and the nonprofit has been secured the committee can then submit the charter school application to the authorizer.   

Do charter schools have admission requirements? 

No, charter schools do not have admission requirements or entrance exams. Though many charter schools are in high demand and when that demand exceeds the spaces available in the school, a charter school may hold a randomized, blind lottery to determine which students are admitted or may preference students by need or location.  Charter schools that are designated as Alternative Education Campus may have priority enrollment, i.e., a school whose mission is to educate students with dyslexia.   

What is a charter school authorizer? 

Authorizers are the institutions that decide who can start a new charter school, set expectations, and oversee school performance, and decide which schools should continue to serve students or not.  Authorizers are traditional school districts, universities and legislated organizations. 

Do charter schools charge tuition? 

No, charter schools are tuition-free, public schools. 

What makes charter schools different than other schools? 

Charter schools typically have a theme/focused mission or are established in reaction to the local traditional schools failing schools.  Charter schools have flexibility in curriculum, employment, discipline etc., but not in federal programs such as special education. 

How are charter schools funded in South Carolina? 

Charter schools sponsored by a local district are funded by state, federal and local monies.  Charter schools sponsored by a statewide authorizer are funded by state and federal monies.  Statewide authorized schools receive 100% of base student cost and the designated amount authorized by the proviso in the state legislature budget.  Currently, the amounts are $2485 for base student cost and $3600 from the proviso plus the weight of the student’s category which includes special education, vocational, pupil in poverty.   

Do charter schools have to teach to state standards? 

Yes! Charter schools must meet the same standards, take the same assessments and report assessment results as all other traditional schools. 

Are charter schools accredited? 

Yes—the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) acknowledged in a 2015 memo that all charter schools are considered accredited if they are in good standing with their sponsor/authorizer.  The SCDE publishes a list of accredited charter schools on its website.  When a charter school is accredited, it means that credits earned by students are eligible for transfer to any public school, that diplomas are issued by the State of South Carolina the same way they are for traditional schools and are considered valid by colleges and universities.  In addition to state accreditation, schools can choose to go through AdvancEd accreditation, a nationally recognized accreditation process.  See the individual school websites for more details. 

Do charter schools receive exemptions for property taxes when paying rent? 

Yes. A bill was passed clarifying taxes for charter schools that are renting or leasing. Bill H4871(K) Section 59-40-140 states, "Charter Schools are exempt from all state and local taxation, except the sales tax on their earnings and property whether owned or leased. Instruments of conveyance to or from a charter school are exempt from all types of taxation of local or state taxes and transfer fees." In a rental situation, the landlord will need to apply for the exemption.