Should the government expand access to charter schools?

With charter schools blurring the line between public and private institutions, proponents tout high test scores and college acceptance rates while critics say they are inequitable and drain resources from the most disadvantaged public schools.

Rise of the Issue

A charter school is a tuition-free public school that runs as a school of choice. Since the first charter school opened in 1992, its number has increased to more than 7,600 in the United States. With Minnesota passing the first charter school law in 1991, 43 states have passed a similar law. The charter schools’ enrollment surpassed 3 million in 2016 and now accounts for nearly 7% of the entire U.S. public school students. 

Operated based on three principles — accountability, choice, and autonomy, charter schools in part aim to address education disparities and provide personalized learning opportunities to marginalized students of low-income. But while some say that charter schools provide minority students in poverty more learning opportunities in math and reading per year, others say charter schools exacerbate socio-economic segregation within school districts.

Issue Timeline


Charter School Idea is First Expressed

Ray Budde, Professor at the University Mass Amherst, presented ideas for school district reorganization in a paper titled “Education by Charter.”


Charter School Idea Gets Support from AFT leader

In an op-ed in the New York Times, American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker expressed support for a key charter school concept: Teachers set up autonomous schools.


First U.S. Charter School Opens in Minnesota

City Academy in St. Paul, designed for students who dropped out of school and whose homes were wrecked by poverty or substance abuse, opened with an initial enrollment of 35 students.


Federal Charter School Program is Launched

The Clinton administration created the Charter School Program to fund state education agencies trying to create and support local charter schools.


Charter Schools Continue to Grow in Number

By 2021, the number of charter schools in the U.S. increased to more than 7,600, enrolling more than 3.3 million students and comprising nearly 7% of all public school students.

Micro Issues


School Choice

Proponents say charter schools provide parents with an opportunity to choose a school that better fits their children’s educational needs, while opponents argue that ‘school choice’ policies take away funding from public schools to finance these alternative school methods.



Those in favor believe that charter schools give brilliant students from marginalized communities a better chance at succeeding academically, while others denounce the recruitment strategies used by many charter schools as discriminatory.


Public School

Some question whether charter schools should really be seen as public schools since they operate very much like private ones, while others assert that they are accessible to all students, if only they meet certain academic standards.

Pro Arguments


Charter schools are smaller than public schools and have lower average class sizes.

With smaller enrollments and average class size, charter schools offer a higher teacher-to-student ratio.


They foster innovations in learning.

Operating independently from school boards, charter schools are free to try new approaches and methods.


They engender an atmosphere of community.

Students, parents, and teachers share a common goal and are invested together in the success of their school.


They are accountable.

Charter schools open only after agreeing to a contract from a chartering authority defining a mission with specific goals, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success.


They push students toward excellence.

Many charter schools impose GPA requirements and other assignments for students to get in, and have high academic standards, which helps students perform better academically.

Con Arguments


Fundraising may be required.

While many public schools raise money for individual programs, charter schools may depend on donations and other methods of outreach for their very existence.


Charter schools take money away from public schools.

A public school losing students to a charter school loses funding for those students.


They have been known to use targeted recruitment strategies.

Some charter schools have been shown to purposefully leave out whole areas, especially Black and Latino neighborhoods, and have conditions that push out students from poorer or less educated backgrounds.


Some have been denounced for implementing harsh discipline.

Cases of aggressive discipline on students have been reported in some of the so-called “no excuses” charter schools.


They tend to have a market-driven mentality.

Because charter schools need funding, it is putting pressure on school administrators to turn a public school into a profitable enterprise.