Frequently Asked Questions: Charter Schools

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school with specific goals and operating procedures detailed in an agreement, or charter, between the authorizing agency – usually either a local school district board or a county board of education – and the charter operator.  

Do charter schools receive state funding?

Yes, charter schools receive state funding and should not be confused with private schools.  They may not charge tuition, are non-sectarian and open to any student, regardless of his or her place of residence.

When were charter schools established?

In 1992, California lawmakers passed the Charter Schools Act, making California the second state in the nation, behind Minnesota, to enact charter school legislation.

The law initially set a limit of 100 charter schools state-wide. That limit was eased in the years that followed. As of 2018-19, more than 1,300 charter schools and seven all-charter districts operate in California, housing more than 652,000 students, according to the California Department of Education.

While advocates have touted charter schools as a benefit to school choice, some critics have expressed concern that the rapid growth of charter schools — including many operated by charter management organizations — is diverting funding from traditional public schools.

Do charter schools have to follow the same laws as traditional public schools?

Yes and no. Because the intent of the Charter Schools Act was to expand options for parents, charter schools are exempt from many of the laws that govern school districts, except where specifically noted in California’s Education Code. The charter is the document that controls the entire school’s operations, so the contents of the charter are important and must be carefully reviewed by the approving agency.

Charter schools must, however, follow all laws protecting civil rights, student health and safety, as well as state laws regarding uniform complaint procedures and federal special education laws. In California, charter schools must also take part in the same statewide assessments as traditional public school campuses, and they are required to hire credentialed teachers for core and college preparatory subjects.

How is charter school accountability monitored?

When a charter petition is submitted for a new school, petitioners must specifically define their academic goals as well as their finances. If approved, charter schools are generally reviewed for renewal every five years by the approving agency to make sure they’re producing acceptable academic results and running in a fiscally and operationally responsible manner.

Does the Orange County Department of Education Review Charter Petitions?

Yes, only if the Orange County Board of Education approves a charter school, the oversight requirements are assigned to the Orange County superintendent of schools, Dr. Al Mijares, and the staff of the Orange County Department of Education.

Are there any charter schools in Irvine that have been authorized by the IUSD Board of Education?

Yes.  On February 7, 2023, the IUSD Board of Education Conditionally Approved the Irvine Chinese Immersion Academy Charter School's petition. The Irvine Chinese Immersion Academy is scheduled to start in 2023-24 for grades PK-3.  The IUSD Board of Education has not authorized/approved any other charter petitions. 

The Irvine International Academy Charter School was approved by the Orange County Board of Education in January of 2021 after an appeal of the denial by the Irvine Unified School District.  The school is a Mandarin Immersion public charter school for grades TK-6, and has no affiliation with the Irvine Unified School District other than renting District facilities.