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The Canadian province of Alberta enacted legislation in 1994 enabling charter schools. 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 share 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 ("charter 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: for example, they are prohibited from supplementing the public funds with tuition or other fees; pupils must be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis; and entrance exams are not permitted. There are about 900 charter schools throughout the country.
Saint Paul, Minnesota wrote the first charter school law in the United States in 1992. As of 2011[update], Minnesota had 149 registered charter schools, with over 35,000 students attending. The first of these was Bluffview Montessori School, opened 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% of all New Orleans school children were in charter schools during the 2011–12 school year. As of May 2014, all but 5 (Bethune Elementary, Franklin Elementary, Mahalia Jackson elementary, McDonogh 35, and McMain High School are all that remain of the direct run New Orleans Public School System) of New Orleans' schools are charter schools rather than traditional public schools.
Unlike their counterparts, laws governing charter schools vary greatly from state to state. This can best be seen in the three states with the highest number of students enrolled in charter schools: California, Arizona, and Michigan. These differences largely relate to what types of public agencies are permitted to authorize the creation of charter schools, whether or not and through what processes private schools can convert to charter schools, and whether or not charter school teachers need to be certified and what that certification consists of.
In California, local school districts are the most frequent granters of school charters. If a local school district denies a charter application, or if the proposed charter school provides services not provided by the local school districts, a county board consisting of superintendents from state 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, the creation of charter schools in Michigan (known there as "Public School Academies") can be authorized only by local school boards or by the governing school boards of state colleges and universities.
Different states with charter school legislation have adopted widely different positions in regard to the conversion of private schools to charter schools. California, for example, does not allow the conversion of pre-existing private schools into charter schools. Both Arizona and Michigan allow such conversions, but with different requirements. A private schools wishing to convert to a charter school in Michigan, for example, must show that at least 25% of its student population is made up of new students. Legislation in Arizona stipulates that private schools that wish to become charter schools within that state must have admission policies that are fair and non-discriminatory. Also, while Michigan and California require teachers at charter schools to hold state certification, those in Arizona do not.
Charter schools were targeted to be a major component of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. Specifically, the act specifies that students attending schools labeled as under-performing by state standards now have the option to transfer to a different school in the district, whether it is a state, private, or charter school. The act also suggested that if a failing school cannot show adequate yearly progress, it will be designated a charter school.
Currently there are almost 100 charter schools in North Carolina, the limit passed by legislation in 1996. The 1996 legislation dictates that there will be no more than five charter schools operating within one school district at any given time. It was passed in order to offer parents options in regard to their children and the school they attend, with most of the cost being covered by tax revenue. There has recently been activity around the issue of raising the state cap of 100 to 110. When the legislation was first passed to allow charter schools in North Carolina, in 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 permitting charter schools in North Carolina, the institutions with the authority to grant charters was shifted from local boards of education to the State Board of Education. This can also be compared with several other states that have various powers that accept charter school applications.
Cyber charter schools aim to better prepare students for work in a technical world. They operate like typical charter schools in that they are independently organized schools, but allow for much more flexibility compared with 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 account for approximately 2% of all charter school students. They allow students to be taught over the Internet, meeting with teachers only for certain activities. They also allow students to attend the cyber charter school without being located in that local school district. Cyber charter schools face unique challenges, in part related to legislation created for regular charter schools. As a result, four states have adopted specific legislation tailored to cyber charter schools.
One example of a state's cyber schools seeing an increase in implementation is Arizona, which has about 3,500 students in cyber schools, about half of them cyber charter schools and the other half 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 to spending all of the class time in a formal school building while 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 2 million students nationwide. The numbers equate to a 13% 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.