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 Frequently Asked Questions for Parents and Community


Charter School Basics

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school of choice that operates under the terms of a charter, or contract, with an authorizer, such as the state and local boards of education. Charter schools receive flexibility from certain state and local rules in exchange for a higher degree of accountability for raising student achievement. Charter schools are held accountable by their authorizer(s) for upholding the terms of their charter.

Are charter schools public schools?

Yes. Charter schools are public schools. As such they receive public funding, cannot charge tuition, must have fair and open enrollment, must be secular, and are required to serve all student populations, including students with disabilities and English language learners.

What is the difference between a charter school and a traditional public school?

Two words can help distinguish charter schools from traditional public schools: autonomy and flexibility. Charter schools are governed, not by a local board of education, but by an autonomous non-profit board of directors, and they receive flexibility from certain state and local rules and regulations in exchange for a higher level of accountability. Charter schools use this flexibility to implement innovative or unique programs, in order to provide educational options to parents and students that are not typically available in the traditional public schools.

What is the difference between a charter school and a magnet or theme school?

A magnet or theme school is typically a school within a local school district that offers a certain instructional program. Many magnet or theme schools may have admissions criteria such as: test scores; teacher recommendations; or grades. Charter schools operate independently from the local district, and they are not allowed to have admissions criteria. For example, a charter school cannot require students to pass a test or have a certain grade point average in order to be admitted.

What is the difference between a charter school and a private school?

Charter schools are public schools of choice. Unlike private schools, they receive public funding, cannot charge tuition, and are not allowed to have admissions criteria. Also unlike private schools, charter schools are subject to many of the same state and all federal regulations that traditional public schools are subject to. For example, charter schools participate in the same statewide assessments and accountability measures as traditional public schools.

How many charter schools are there in Georgia?

There are currently 115 charter schools in Georgia, not including schools within charter systems. Of the 115 charter schools, there are 97 start-up charter schools and 18 conversion charter schools. In addition, there are 32 charter systems in Georgia, which include 326 schools.

Types of Charter Schools in Georgia

What are the different types of charter schools in Georgia?

In Georgia, there are two types of charter schools: start-up charter schools and conversion charter schools. Start-up charter schools are often grouped by their authorizer: locally-approved charter schools and state-chartered special schools.

What is a start-up charter school?

A start-up charter school is a charter school that did not exist prior to becoming a charter school.

What is a conversion charter school?

A conversion charter school is a charter school that previously existed as a traditional public school. The traditional public school entered into a charter to gain additional flexibility from state and local rules in exchange for greater accountability.

What is a state-chartered special school?

A state-chartered special school is a school that has been approved by the State Board of Education after having been denied by a local school district.

What is a charter system?

A charter system is a local school district that operates under the terms of a charter between the State Board of Education and the local school district. The system receives flexibility from certain state rules and regulations in exchange for greater accountability. There is an emphasis on school-based leadership and decision-making.

Charter Authorizers in Georgia

What is an authorizer?

An authorizer is an entity which has been granted the authority to create charter schools. Authorizers make decisions regarding the approval and renewal of charters. They also conduct ongoing oversight to evaluate performance, monitor compliance, and enforce the terms of a charter.

Who are charter school authorizers in Georgia?

In Georgia, local boards of education and the State Board of Education are charter school authorizers.

Admissions and Enrollment

If I want to enroll my child in a charter school, what is the admissions process?

The typical admissions process for a charter school is as follows:

a) Application – Most charter schools require that parents submit an application. The application may require information regarding contact information, residency, and grade level. The application to a charter school should NEVER include information that screens applicants such as: prior test data, letters of recommendation or special services, gender, race, or language spoken at home.

b) The school may apply legally allowable enrollment preferences to the pool of applicants.

c) If the number of applicants exceeds the number of spaces, then the school must hold a random selection lottery. The lottery must be open to the public.

d) Student registration - admitted students submit information that is excluded from the admissions application. Enrollment procedures for charter schools are the same as those for traditional public schools. To read these requirements, see SBOE Rule 160-5-1-.28
Parents should contact the individual school that they are interested in enrolling their child in for information about admissions.

Do charter schools have an attendance zone?

Yes, charter schools define their own attendance zone within their contract. Enrollment preference is given to students who live within the charter school’s defined attendance zone. If seats are not filled after students within the attendance zone are admitted, the school may open up enrollment to any student living within the school district in which the charter school is located.

How do I find out if my child lives within a specific school’s attendance zone?

To find out the attendance zone of a specific charter school, contact the school directly or visit the school’s website. The school’s authorizer will also have this information. This may be the district in which the charter school is located or the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.

Is there a deadline for applying for admission to a charter school in Georgia?

Deadlines for applying to charter schools vary from school to school, but are typically several months before school opens. Parents must contact individual schools early to inquire about admissions.

Where can I find a list of charter schools located in my county or school district?

You can find a list of charter schools in Georgia, including what county or district they are located in, at the Charter Schools webpage of the Georgia Department of Education: http://public.doe.k12.ga.us/pea_charter.aspx. Local school districts should also have a list of schools which they have locally authorized.

Can charter schools select their students?

Charter schools, as public schools, must adhere to the same open admission and enrollment standards as traditional public schools. With the exception of certain allowable admissions preferences, charter schools may not select their students, nor deny admission to any applicant provided that there is space for that student within the school’s capacity.

What is a legally allowable enrollment preference?

A legally allowable enrollment preference allows applicants in certain categories admission to the charter school outside of the random selection (lottery) process. In the case of start-up charters the categories allowable under the Charter Schools Act are as follows: siblings of a student enrolled in the start –up charter school; a sibling of a student enrolled in another local school designated in the charter; a student whose parent or guardian is a member of the governing board of the charter school or is a full time teacher, professional, or other employee at the charter school; and students matriculating from a local school designated in the charter.

Conversion charter schools may legally allow enrollment preferences for: a sibling of a student enrolled in the charter school or in any school in the high school cluster; a student whose parent or guardian is a member of the governing board of the charter school or is a full time teacher, professional, or other employee at the charter school; students who were enrolled in the local school before it became a charter; students who reside in the charter attendance zone specified in the charter.

State-chartered special schools may give enrollment preferences to a student whose parent is a full time teacher, professional, or other employee at the charter school or to a student currently enrolled in a state chartered special school or a sibling of a student currently enrolled in a state-chartered special school.

A charter system shall enroll students pursuant to the terms of its system charter.

Do charter schools have an enrollment cap?

As part of their flexibility, charter schools have the ability to set an enrollment cap. Typically, a charter school may cap its enrollment as a reflection of its distinct educational program, or based on facilities limitations. If the number of applicants for a school exceeds the number of available spaces, the school is required to hold a random selection lottery. The lottery must be open to the public.

How does a charter school lottery work?

Charter schools are required to conduct a lottery when there are more timely filed applications for admission than there are seats. The lottery must be by random selection and the results must be validated for accuracy. The results of the lottery must be made public.

Do charter schools serve students with special needs?

Yes. Charter schools, as public schools, are required to comply with IDEA and Section 504.

What kinds of questions should I ask of a particular charter school before deciding to enroll my child?

Parents and guardians should ask questions about the school’s educational program, the school’s leadership (administration and governing board), faculty, and policies. Many schools will provide a student handbook. As a parent or guardian learns more about particular charter schools, they should try to determine which school would be most suitable for their child. Information about individual charter schools can typically be found on the school’s website.

Student Services

Do charter schools offer free and reduced-price meals?

Charter schools are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program. Charter schools are not required to participate in the National School Lunch Program or to provide meals. Many charter schools provide free and reduced-price meals for their students even if they do not participate in the National School Lunch Program.

Do charter schools provide special education services?

Yes, charter schools are required by federal law to offer and provide services for students with disabilities.

Do charter schools provide language support services for English language learners?

Yes, charter schools are required by federal law to offer language support services for students with limited English proficiency, or English language learners (ELLs). Schools must follow state and federal guidelines to identify, serve, and assess ELLs.

Do charter schools offer Supplemental Education Services pursuant to No Child Left Behind?

Pursuant to the No Child Left Behind Act, charter schools are required to offer Supplemental Education Services (SES) to qualifying students when the school is in its second year of Needs Improvement status.

Do charter schools offer services for gifted students?

Charter schools are not required to participate in the state Gifted Education Program. Those that do participate may offer a delivery model that is different from the state approved delivery models. Parents and guardians should contact the individual charter school or charter system to inquire how the school serves students identified as being gifted.

Testing and Accountability

Are charter school students required to take the CRCT/EOCT/GHSGT etc.?

Yes, charter schools, as public schools, are subject to the Georgia statewide accountability assessments. Therefore, students in charter schools participate in the same assessments as traditional public school students.

How are charter schools held accountable for academic results?

Schools are held accountable for academic results through their charter contract with an authorizer (the local school district and/or the State Board of Education). The contract stipulates certain academic performance goals that the school must meet in order to fulfill the terms of its charter.

How do I find out how a particular charter school is doing?

Information regarding a charter school’s performance can be accessed on the Georgia Department of Education’s Accountability website.

How do I find out how a particular charter school is doing financially?

Charter schools are required to submit an annual financial statement (for conversions) or an audited annual financial statement (for start-ups) to their authorizers by October 1 each year. This information is available to the public through the school, the local district (for locally-approved schools) or the Commission (for Commission-approved schools), and the Georgia Department of Education. It is also published in the Department’s annual report of charter schools.

Protocol for Filing Complaints and Concerns

If I have a concern or complaint regarding my child’s charter school, whom can I talk to?

The protocol for filing and addressing complaints regarding a charter school will vary slightly depending on the type of charter school:

For locally-approved charter schools:

First the parent should contact school personnel and attempt to resolve the issue at the school level. If resolution is not found at the school level, then the concern should be directed to the charter school’s governing board. If the issue is still not resolved through school personnel or the governing board, then the parent should contact the local school district which authorized the charter school. Finally, if resolution is not found there, the parent should contact the State Department of Education.

For state-chartered special schools:

First the parent should contact school personnel and attempt to resolve the issue at the school level. If resolution is not found at the school level, then the concern should be directed to the charter school’s governing board. If the issue is still not resolved through school personnel or the governing board, then the parent should contact the Georgia Department of Education.

For schools within a Charter System:

First the parent should contact school personnel and attempt to resolve the issue at the school level, through the principal or the local school governance team. If resolution is not found at the school level, then the concern should be directed to the local school system. If resolution is not found there, the parent should contact the Georgia Department of Education.

How do I find out how a particular charter school is doing financially?

Charter schools are required to submit an annual financial statement (for conversions) or an audited annual financial statement (for start-ups) to their authorizers by October 1 each year. This information is available to the public through the school, the local district (for locally-approved schools), and the Georgia Department of Education. It is also published in the Department’s annual report of charter schools.

Additional Questions

Whom can I contact if I did not find the answer to my question here?

Please contact the Charter Schools Division at (404) 657-0515 or lsatterwhite@doe.k12.ga.us. ​​​