understanding public charter schools

Charter schools are public schools that are innovative while still being held accountable for improved student achievement. Charter schools are funded by the state and free to all Arizona students. They vary in mission and model, serving a wide range of students.

Results Oversight Funding FAQ Engagement


Charters Produce Results for Students
The AzMERIT results show public charter school students scored better than the state average in nearly every grade level and subject area for the fourth straight year. The AzMERIT scores, released by the Arizona Department of Education, show Arizona’s public charter students, teachers and leaders continue their progress on Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards. You can examine the results here.

Charter Students Boasted Larger NAEP Gains than Any State
NAEP results show significant gains over the last eight years, with public charter students outperforming their district and private school peers in every grade level and on every subject tested. This trend is most evident in the scores for eighth-grade reading and math. When separated and measured as if they were their own state, Arizona charter students rank first in the nation in eighth-grade math, and second for eighth-grade reading. Read more here.




Charter Enrollment on the Rise

In the 2016-17 school year, a record 185,900 students attended 556 Arizona charter schools, an increase of over 10,000 students – or 5.9 percent – over the 2015-16 school year. That’s about 17 percent of Arizona’s public school students and 30 percent of public schools. By comparison, year-over-year enrollment in Arizona district schools declined. Find out more here.

Charters Serve a Majority Minority Student Population
Although public charter students scored higher than the state average in virtually every grade level and subject area on the state’s AzMERIT test for the fourth straight year, Arizona’s charter performance is usually met with the skepticism of those who believe charters don’t cater to all students, notably minority and underserved youth. It’s time to retire that stereotype. Click here to learn more.

Arizona Charters Academically Exceeding

A Focus on Quality

Charter schools have been part of the fabric of Arizona’s public school landscape for over 20 years. They serve a diverse student population, and students across all demographics see higher outcomes when enrolled in charter schools. In fact, for the last three years, public charter students in all racial and ethnic groups outperformed the state average on AzMERIT for their group in Math and English.



The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools was created through legislation in 1994 to grant charter status to qualifying applicants and to oversee public charter schools. Charter schools are public, state-funded schools that operate under a charter contract with a charter school sponsor or authorizer. The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools oversees more than 500 public charter schools throughout the state making it the largest authorizer in Arizona. Below are some facts about public charter school oversight.

Public Charter Schools…


On average, a public charter school student will receive $951 LESS – from all funding sources – than a student in a public school district.  The chart below illustrates the difference in K-12 per pupil funding for public district and charter schools.

(Source: Joint Legislative Budget Committee, June 2018)

Click here for the complete document.


  1. When and why were public charter schools created? Arizona public charter school law passed in June of 1994 to improve student achievement and provide additional academic choices for parents and their children. A.R.S. §15-181
  2. How many students attend public charter schools? Arizona public charter schools enroll 185,000+ students statewide
  3. Why has enrollment increased in public charter schools? Parent demand is driving up Arizona public charter enrollment with year-over-year increase in students while districts are declining.  More info
  4. Which legislative districts have public charter schools? Arizona public charters are located in all 30 legislative districts. More info 
  5. What are the demographics of public charter school students? Arizona public charter schools enroll a larger percentage of non-white students than white students. More info
  6. How many public charter schools serve at risk students? Approximately 22% of Arizona’s public charter schools are alternative serving at-risk students. More info
  7. Do public charter schools “cherry pick” their students? Arizona’s public charter schools cannot “cherry pick” students, they are required by law to enroll all students through a lottery. A.R.S §15-184 Each public charter school has a total student enrollment cap set by the Arizona State Board for Charter schools which means they must create a “waiting list” once they reach their cap.
  8. Do public charter schools accept all students? Arizona’s public charter schools are required by law to accept all students and they must enroll and provide educational services to special education and English Learner students. A.R.S §15-184 
  9. Do public charter schools evaluate the performance of their staff? Public charter schools are required to evaluate the performance of their teachers and principals every year. More info
  10. Are public charter schools funded by local property taxes? Arizona public charter school students are not funded by local property taxes – local bonds and overrides – even if their students live in a district that has passed them. A.R.S. § 15-1021 
  11. Do public charter schools receive monies specifically for buildings, transportation, etc.? Arizona’s public charter schools must use operating funds to pay for all expenses: buildings, transportation, text books, salaries and benefits, utilities, etc.  More info

With negative headlines splashed across news outlets, the hard work of our K-12 teachers and leaders is sometimes overshadowed and forgotten. We want to change that. Our Charters Changing Lives campaign is a way to share the stories that are often overlooked: to recognize the efforts of our students, teachers, leaders and community members who dedicate their lives to ensuring student success. With 547 public charter schools serving over 180,000 students, charters play an integral role in shaping the lives of Arizona’s youth. We plan to share how Arizona’s charter schools are changing lives every day.

Read their Stories