How Are Charter Schools Started and How Are They Held Accountable?

The “charter document” establishing each school is a legal agreement detailing the school's mission, programs, methods of assessment, finances, and measures of success. Parents, community leaders, businesses, teachers, school districts, and municipalities can submit a charter school proposal. Charter schools are judged on how well they educate children in a safe and responsible environment and how well they manage fiscal and operational responsibilities entrusted to them. Charter schools must operate lawfully and responsibly, with the highest regard for equity and excellence. Thus, while free from some state regulations, students in charter schools take the same state tests required of all public schools students to assess their learning. In Pennsylvania, every five years, the local school board has the obligation to review the charter school's record and renew the charter for an additional five years so long as the school is found to be producing good student outcomes and operating in a financially responsible and lawful manner. In the words of Jonathan Cetel, executive director of PennCAN, an education advocacy group committed to improving schools, “Actually, they are held to higher standards than traditional public schools. Like traditional public schools, they must take state standardized tests, but unlike traditional public schools, they are reviewed every five years and can be shut down if they aren't performing.”