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Charter School vs. Public School: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 10, 2024
Charter schools are independently run but publicly funded, offering specialized curricula; public schools are government-operated and adhere to state curricula.

Key Differences

Charter schools are independently managed educational institutions funded by public money. They often have more flexibility in their curricula and teaching methods compared to public schools, which are government-operated and must follow state-mandated curricula and standards. Each operates under a charter, a legal agreement that outlines the school's mission, educational goals, and methods of assessment, distinguishing them from public schools that must adhere to district-wide policies.
Charter schools are typically overseen by a board or organization and have the freedom to design their educational programs, though they are accountable to their charter's standards. Public schools, on the other hand, are managed by local school districts and are subject to state education laws and policies. This distinction means charter schools can offer innovative or specialized programs, while public schools often have more standardized offerings.
Charter schools often have a lottery system for admissions due to limited space and high demand, whereas public schools must accept all students within their geographical area. Despite being publicly funded, charter schools may have additional private funding, unlike public schools, which rely mainly on state and local government funding.
Charter schools can specialize in areas like STEM, arts, or bilingual education, providing parents and students with more tailored educational options. Public schools, however, offer a more generalized education that aims to meet the needs of a broader student population within the community.
Charter schools are often subject to rigorous academic performance reviews as part of their charter agreement, whereas public schools are evaluated based on state standardized testing and compliance with state educational regulations.

Comparison Chart


Operated by independent boards or organizations
Managed by local school districts

Curriculum Flexibility

High flexibility in curricula and teaching methods
Follows state-mandated curricula


Often use a lottery system
Open to all students in the geographical area


Public funds, sometimes supplemented privately
Primarily state and local government funding


Can specialize in specific educational areas
Generally offer a broad, standardized education

Charter School and Public School Definitions

Charter School

Charter schools operate with greater autonomy in exchange for increased accountability.
Our local charter school has an innovative curriculum but must meet strict performance goals.

Public School

A public school is a free, government-funded educational institution available to all students in a specific area.
The public school in our district has a strong emphasis on literacy and numeracy.

Charter School

Charter schools are subject to periodic review and renewal of their charter.
The charter school improved its teaching methods to ensure its charter renewal.

Public School

Public schools adhere to a standardized curriculum set by the state or local education authorities.
Our public school follows the state curriculum, including annual standardized testing.

Charter School

Charter schools offer a choice to parents seeking specific educational approaches or themes.
Parents chose this charter school for its emphasis on environmental science.

Public School

Public schools serve the educational needs of the community and are managed by elected school boards.
The local public school is planning to expand its facilities to accommodate more students.

Charter School

A charter school is a publicly funded independent school established by teachers, parents, or community groups.
The new charter school in town focuses on project-based learning.

Public School

Public schools must cater to all students, providing inclusive education regardless of background.
The public school has introduced programs to support students with special educational needs.

Charter School

A charter school provides an alternative to traditional public schools, often with a unique educational philosophy.
The charter school's philosophy emphasizes holistic education and community involvement.

Public School

A public school is an integral part of the community, often reflecting its social and cultural diversity.
Our public school celebrates cultural diversity with events that bring the community together.

Public School

Attributive form of public school
Public-school student

Public School

Alternative form of public school


Do charter schools have admissions tests?

Generally, charter schools do not have admissions tests and often use a lottery system for enrollment.

Are public schools required to follow state standards?

Yes, public schools must adhere to state educational standards and curricula.

How are public schools funded?

Public schools are funded by government sources, primarily through state and local taxes.

Are public school teachers unionized?

In many cases, public school teachers are unionized, whereas charter school teachers may not be.

Do charter schools have special education programs?

Yes, charter schools are required to provide special education services to eligible students.

Can a charter school specialize in a particular area of study?

Yes, charter schools can specialize in specific areas like STEM, arts, or language immersion.

Can charter schools be religiously affiliated?

No, as publicly funded institutions, charter schools cannot be religiously affiliated.

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a publicly funded, independently run school that operates under a charter or agreement.

Can charter schools charge tuition?

No, charter schools cannot charge tuition as they are publicly funded.

How is a charter school's charter granted and reviewed?

A charter school's charter is granted by a government or educational body and is periodically reviewed for renewal.

Do public schools offer extracurricular activities?

Yes, most public schools offer a range of extracurricular activities and sports.

How is the performance of public schools measured?

Public schools' performance is typically measured through standardized state testing and compliance with state regulations.

What is the teacher-student ratio like in public schools?

The teacher-student ratio in public schools varies but is often higher than in charter schools.

Can charter schools be closed?

Yes, charter schools can be closed if they fail to meet the standards set in their charter.

What types of programs do public schools typically offer?

Public schools typically offer a broad range of programs, including academic, arts, and vocational education.

Do public schools have a standardized curriculum?

Yes, public schools follow a standardized curriculum set by state or local education authorities.

Are charter schools held accountable for academic performance?

Yes, charter schools are held accountable for academic performance as part of their charter agreement.

How do public schools support students with disabilities?

Public schools provide support and accommodations for students with disabilities as mandated by law.

Are public schools open to all students?

Yes, public schools are open to all students within their designated geographical area.

How do charter schools differ in teaching methods?

Charter schools often have more flexibility in teaching methods, allowing for innovative or alternative educational approaches.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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