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Overview of a Movement

Growth: In 1991 Minnesota passed the first charter school law, with California following suit in 1992. As of fall 2010, there were more than 5,200 charter schools serving more than 1.8 million children across the country. For the 2010–2011 school year, 519 new charter schools opened across the country, 119 of those opening in California. The national charter movement continues to expand—driven both by its successes and by the public's continued demand for choice. Growth has intensified under the Obama administration via its renewed emphasis on transforming public education and its explicit support of charter schools as an integral part of the transformation. Faster expansion presents additional pressure on the building and sustaining of high quality charter schools.

Freedom and Accountability: Charter schools receive public money but have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each school's charter.

Demand: Where enrollment in a charter school is over subscribed, admission is frequently allocated by lottery-based admissions. In a 2008 survey of charter schools, 59% of the schools reported that they had a waiting list, averaging 198 students.

Achievement: Charter schools that have been open for significant periods of time boast even higher achievement rates; a Harvard University study has found that charter schools that have been operating for more than 5 years outpace conventional schools by as much as 15 percent.

Curriculum: Some charter schools provide a curriculum that specializes in a certain field—for example, arts, mathematics, etc. Others attempt to provide a better and more efficient general education than nearby public schools.

Founders: A charter school is usually created or organized by a group of teachers, parents and community leaders or a community-based organization, and it is usually sponsored by an existing local public school board or county board of education.

Tuition: While charter schools provide an alternative to other public schools, they are part of the public education system and are not allowed to charge tuition.

Choice: Charter schools are opened and attended by choice.