School choice is an explosive issue in some communities, especially when neighborhood boundaries don’t map to schools that perform to parents’ satisfaction. Charter schools in the United States (similar to “free schools” in the United Kingdom) are experimenting with approaches to partner with the private sector under the auspices of an agreed-upon charter, or mandate, to deliver education to publicly funded students. Charter schools receive public money (and like other schools, may also receive private donations) but are not subject to some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools. Instead, charter schools are expected to produce certain results, set forth in each school’s charter.
However, in exchange for being exempt from these rules, charter schools receive less funding than public schools in the same area: typically, they receive only per-head funds (a certain amount per student) and do not receive any facilities funding to cover maintenance and janitorial needs.
Launching and operating a charter school requires both political and practical savvy. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan touches on that point in his interview, noting that “good charter schools are part of the solution, bad charter schools are part of the problem.” Further exploring the mechanics of charter schools, Michelle Rhee, founder of StudentsFirst and former Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public school system, discusses navigating the political landscape to achieve top results for charter school teachers and students across the country. Drilling down to the local level, Emily Lawson, founder of a successful Washington, D.C., charter schools network, explains how to combine a grassroots approach with a more polished marketing campaign to conduct the community outreach required for such a large-scale system.