Legislation allowing for the creation of Massachusetts charter schools was passed under the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993.
Massachusetts charter public schools, authorized by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, are public schools that operate tuition-free for students residing in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Generally, founders of charter schools are parents, community members and/or members of the general public who come together to create a public school that provides an alternative educational program from the local district schools. Charter public schools are typically designed around a specific mission, theme or curricular focus.
In Massachusetts there are two types of charter public schools: Commonwealth Charter Schools and Horace Mann Charter Schools. Both operate independently of the local school system but Horace Mann Charter Public Schools must have approval of the local school committee and teachers’ union in order to open. Additionally, Horace Mann Charter Public Schools have their yearly budget approved by the local school committee. Commonwealth Charter Public Schools have a Board of Trustees which functions independent of the local school system. Commonwealth charters do not typically operate with a teachers'union. All Massachusetts charter public schools are governed by a board of trustees.
The application process for charter public schools is rigorous. It is during this application process that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education determines whether a charter school application is thorough, thoughtful and executable. If awarded a charter, the grant is for a five year period. At the end of five years, charter schools must apply for re-chartering. During every year of a charter school’s existence, it is monitored via an oversight and evaluation process that includes the establishment of an Accountability Plan, annual reporting on goals identified in the school’s accountability plan, and site visits. Schools determined to be underperforming are closed. This high level of accountability is accepted by charter public schools in exchanged for the “freedom” to structure, organize, and create their own mission and academic programs.
History of Charter Public Schools
Charter public schools began in Minnesota in 1991 as a way to offer students choice. In Massachusetts, school reform legislation took charter schools to another level; offering choice, ensuring accountability and creating structures for innovation in education.