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The Canadian province of Alberta enacted legislation enabling charter schools in 1994. The first charter schools under the new legislation were established in 1995: New Horizons Charter School, Suzuki Charter School and the Centre for Academic and Personal Excellence.
Alberta charter schools have much in common with their U.S. counterparts. As of 2010[update] there were 22 charter schools in the province, operated by 13 charter school authorities, compared with over 50 school boards, with the largest one alone having over 200 schools. The idea of charter schools initially sparked great debate and is still controversial, but has had limited impact. As of 2010[update], Alberta remains the only Canadian province that has enabled charter schools.
Chile has a long history of private subsidized schooling, akin to charter schooling in the United States. Before the 1980s, most private subsidized schools were religious and owned by churches or other private parties, but they received support from the central government. In the 1980s, the dictatorial government of Augusto Pinochet promoted neoliberal reforms in the country. In 1981 a competitive voucher system in education was adopted. These vouchers could be used in public schools or private subsidized schools (which can be run for profit). After this reform, the number of private subsidized schools, many of them secular, grew from 18.5% of schools in 1980 to 32.7% of schools in 2001. As of 2012, nearly 60% of Chilean students study in charter schools.
The United Kingdom established grant-maintained schools in England and Wales in 1988. They allowed individual schools that were independent of the local school authority. When they were abolished in 1998, most turned into foundation schools, which are really under their local district authority but still have a high degree of autonomy.
Prior to the 2010 General Election, there were about 200 academies (publicly funded schools with a significant degree of autonomy) in England. The Academies Act 2010 aims to vastly increase this number.
Charter schools in New Zealand, labelled as Partnership schools | kura hourua, were allowed for after an agreement between the National Party and the ACT Party following the 2011 general election. The controversial legislation passed with a five vote majority.
The Swedish system of friskolor ("free schools") was instituted in 1992. These are publicly funded by school vouchers and can be run by not-for-profits as well as for-profit companies. The schools are restricted - e.g. they are prohibited from supplementing the public funds with tuition or other fees, and pupils must be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis - entrance exams are not permitted. There are about 900 charter schools throughout the country.
Minnesota wrote the first charter school law in the United States in 1991. As of 2011[update], Minnesota had 149 registered charter schools, with over 35,000 students attending. The first of these schools was Bluffview Montessori School, in 1992. Other schools include the City Academy (1992), Cedar Riverside Community School, The Toivola Meadowlands K-12 Charter School T-M Charter School (1993 - 2005), Metro Deaf School (1993), Community of Peace Academy (1995), the Aspen Academy (2007), and the Mainstreet School of Performing Arts (2004). Since then 41 states and the District of Columbia have approved the formation of charter schools. The state government of Texas approved the formation of charter schools in 1995. Early critics feared that charter schools would lure the highest performing and most gifted students from centrally administered public schools. Instead, charter schools have tended to attract low income, minority, and low performing students. Undoubtedly the most radical experimentation with charter schools has occurred in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans Public Schools system is currently engaged in reforms aimed at decentralizing power away from the pre-Katrina school board central bureaucracy to individual school principals and charter school boards, monitoring charter school performance by granting renewable, five-year operating contracts permitting the closure of those not succeeding, and vesting choice in parents of public school students, allowing them to enroll their children in almost any school in the district. New Orleans is the only city in the nation where the majority of public school students attend charter schools. Fully 78 percent of all New Orleans school children were in charter schools during the 2011-2012 school year.
Unlike their counterpart, charter school laws greatly vary from state to state. This can best be seen by using the examples of the three states with the highest number of students enrolled in charter schools, California, Arizona, and Michigan. These differences largely fall under the categories of what types of public agencies are permitted to authorize the creation of charter schools, whether or not and how private schools can convert to charter schools, and whether or not charter school teachers need to be certified and what that consists of.
Local school districts are the most frequent granters of school charters in California. If a local school district denies a charter application, or if the proposed school provides services not provided by the local school districts, a county board of superintendent of schools or the state board of education can grant a charter. The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools grants charters in Arizona. Local school districts and the state board of education can also grant charters. In contrast, creation of charter schools in Michigan (known there as "Public School Academies") can be authorized by local school boards or the governing school boards of state colleges and universities.
States which have enacted charter school legislation have adopted widely different positions on allowing existing private schools to convert to charter schools. California, for example, does not allow the conversion of a pre-existing private school into a charter school, but both Arizona and Michigan do allow private schools to convert, but with differing requirements. Private schools wishing to convert to charter schools in Michigan must show at least twenty-five percent of their student population to be new students. Arizona private schools that desire to switch to charter schools must have admissions policies that are fair and nondiscriminatory. Also, while Michigan and California require teachers at charter schools to hold state certification, those in Arizona do not.
Charter schools were selected as a large component of the No Child Left Behind Act on 2002 and specifically states that students attending schools labeled as under performing by state standards have the option to transfer to different schools in the district whether it be state, private or charter. No Child Left Behind also suggested an outline that sanctions if a failing school cannot show adequate yearly progress, it will be determined a charter school.
Currently there are almost one hundred charter schools in North Carolina, matching the limit passed by legislation in 1996. The 1996 legislation dictates there will be no more than five charter schools operating within one school district at any given time. It was passed to offer parents options in regards to their children and the school they attend, all with most of the cost being covered by tax revenue. There has recently been activity surrounding the issue of raising the state cap of one hundred to one hundred and ten. When the legislation was first passed to allow charter schools in North Carolina, the following couple of years thirty-four charter schools were opened. Within the next few years there were ninety-nine charter schools opened with an estimated 16,000 students. Furthermore, after the first several years of the charter schools being allowed in North Carolina the institutions with the authority to grant charters was shifted from local boards of education to that of the State Board of Education. This can also be compared with several other states that have multiple different powers who accept the charter school applications.
When compared to the number of charter schools across the nation, which is around 3,000, North Carolina does indeed seem to be but a small part of the charter school system, especially when compared to the top three states in regard to the number of charter schools, Arizona, California, and Michigan. And while the number of charter schools in North Carolina is growing, it has yet to produce a cyber charter school, despite a handful of applications for this cutting edge educational system, which in theory better prepares a student for work in newer technical world. Cyber charter schools operate like a typical charter school in regards to being an independently organized school, but allows for much more flexibility and to break the confines of traditional schools. Between 1999 and 2003 about sixty cyber charter schools have opened with over 16,000 students being served. These cyber charter schools were created in fifteen states and approximately accounts for two percent of all charter school students. They allow for students to be taught over the internet while meeting with teachers and students only for certain activities. It also allows for students to attend the cyber charter school and not necessarily be located in that local school district. It can inherently be seen that many very different problems may arise in cyber charter schools when compared to typical charter schools or traditional schools. And, with most cyber charter schools being ruled by the original legislation created for regular charter schools, one can also see that the cyber charter schools could have a hard time addressing their problems. Because of this problem, four states have adopted more specific legislation that directly tailors to cyber charter schools.
A prime example of a state's cyber schools seeing an increase in implementation is Arizona. With about 3,500 students in their cyber schools, with about half of them being cyber charter schools and the other half being governed by normal public school districts. The cyber schools teach students from kindergarten to twelfth grade, and the setting varies from being entirely online in one's home or spending all of the class time in a formal school building whilst learning over the internet.
As of December 2011, there are now approximately 5,600 public charter schools enrolling what is estimated to be more than two million students nationwide. The numbers equate to a 13 percent growth in students in just one year, while more than 400,000 students remain on wait lists to attend the public school of their choice. Over 500 new public charter schools opened their doors in the 2011-12 school year, an estimated increase of 200,000 students. This year marks the largest single–year increase ever recorded in terms of the number of additional students attending charters.