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What is a charter school?

Charter schools are public schools operated by a nonprofit board independent of the local school board.

“It’s just another choice option,” said Deanna Townsend-Smith, lead consultant in the Office of Charter Schools.

Charter schools are free and open to any student eligible to attend a North Carolina public school. Unlike a traditional public school, students can attend a charter school outside their home county.

If a charter school has more applicants than vacancies, admission is decided through a lottery process.

In order for a charter school to open, it must go through an extensive application process.

A board of directors must be formed and a charter application must be compiled and submitted to the State Board of Education. That application includes the school’s charter, which lays out the school’s mission, goals, standards and accountability model.

Charter schools must meet the tenants in their charter applications as well as the state academic requirements. If they do not, their charter can be revoked and the school closed.

Rather than falling under a local board of education, charter schools are run by a board of directors unique to each school.

This model cuts out the middleman when it comes to important decisions, making it a “little more streamlined process from start to finish,” said Gray Stone Day School Associate Director Jeff Morris.

That allows decisions to be made more quickly and more specifically to the individual school than with a typical school system.

While charter schools have autonomy in their education programming, they are held to the same standards as other public schools across the state.

“Schools must design their programs to at least meet the student performance standards adopted by the State Board of Education and the student performance standards contained in the approved charter application,” the frequently asked questions section of the Department of Public Instruction’s charter school webpage states.

Charter schools are funded through federal, state and local funding. Local funding, or county money in Rowan-Salisbury’s students’ case, follows students from their home school district based on their home address.

While funding for traditional school systems is doled out in line items, or pots, for different uses, charter schools have more flexibility for the use of their funds.

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