Charter Schools and Homeschooling

What is a Charter School?

According to Home School Legal Defense Association, a charter school is “a publicly funded school that is typically governed by a group or organization under a contract or charter with the state.” Each school forms a charter, which is essentially a performance contract detailing the school’s goals, programs, and methods of assessment. In exchange for meeting the set goals, the school is granted an exemption from many traditional public school regulations. Charters typically last for 3–5 years, and at the end of the contract period, the overseeing authority (usually a state or local school board) reviews the school’s performance and determines whether to renew the charter. Although in some ways, charter schools operate similarly to private schools, they are still public schools because they are funded by taxpayer dollars (including both state and federal funds).

Can Charter School Students Be Homeschool Students?

A law passed by the Maine Legislature in 2012 allows the Maine Charter School Commission to authorize as many as 10 public charter schools over the next 10 years. While charter schools provide another educational choice, they are still public schools in every sense of the word, and the students enrolled in them are public school students. It is important to know the difference between public charter schools and homeschools, and the level of freedom and parental involvement available in each.

Homeschools are both legally and fundamentally different from charter schools. The definitions below describe the difference between these two educational choices. In a word, the difference is freedom!  

Charter Schools – Charter schools, whether brick and mortar or  virtual, are nonsectarian and publicly funded public schools of choice. They operate with some freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. However, charter schools are responsible for the education of the students enrolled, not parents. Students must follow all of the program’s policies and procedures. Accountability in charter schools is based in large part on student performance on assessments, which are aligned to state standards. Curriculum choice is not an option. 

Homeschools – By law, homeschools are separate from the public school system. Under Maine law, MRSA title 20-A, §5001-A, sub-§3A.(4), parents must provide a notice of their intent to homeschool their child. Parents take full responsibility for the child while the child is being homeschooled. Parents legally direct the education of the child by choosing and adapting curriculum, facilitating the process, and determining academic needs and goals. Homeschools are funded exclusively by the parent.

For more background, read Charter Schools and Virtual Charter School: “School at Home” not Necessarily Homeschooling by HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) and Virtual Charter School Myths.

Know the Difference! Read and review the Maine Educational Choice Comparison Chart and an article by Kathi Kearney, M. A. Ed., addressing the differences in Maine educational choices.