Tennessee charter schools continue to flourish and serve as an example for innovation, accountability and change in public education
In 2002, the Tennessee Public Charter School Act was established and a new era of innovation in education began in Tennessee.
Know The Facts
Charter schools allow the freedom and flexibility to be more innovative in their approach to educating children but are still held accountable for advancing student achievement.
FACT: Tennessee's charter schools are public, tuition-free schools - funded by public dollars and held to the same academic standards as other public schools in Tennessee.
FACT: Only non-profit organizations can open charter schools in Tennessee. Unlike in some states, Tennessee law has the necessary safeguards and prohibits for-profit entities from operating and managing our charter schools.
FACT: Charter schools are public schools. In Tennessee, the funding follows the student - with the money going to the public school the parents choose, whether a charter school or a traditional school.
FACT: Public charter schools serve all students. They have no selective admission requirements and must accept all students, including English learners and students with special needs. Lotteries are held to enroll students if there are not enough seats available to meet demand.
Frequently Asked Questions
Check out our FAQs for answers to some of the most common questions about charter schools.
Each of the 116 charter schools in Tennessee are unique – both inside and out. Some may focus on college prep, some follow a Montessori curriculum, and others integrate the arts into each subject. Most charter schools are located in urban areas, but there is growing interest in suburban and rural areas of our state as well. Some charter schools require uniforms, others have longer school days or year-round calendars, and some have a strong focus on social emotional learning. The possibilities are endless, but charter schools aim to provide a range of options so that parents can choose the school that best fits their child.
Yes. Public charter schools are required to meet the same academic standards and administer the same assessments as any other public school in Tennessee. In fact, they are evaluated regularly by their authorizers for performance, and if they fail to meet required academic standards, can be closed.
Charter schools are public schools operating under an independent contract or “charter” with an authorizing agency—typically a non-profit organization, government agency or university. The charter provides the school with operational autonomy to pursue specific educational objectives regarding curriculum, staff, and budget. It also holds them accountable to the same (often higher) standards of their district public school peers.
Yes, in Tennessee all public charter schools are required by law to be nonprofit organizations. All charter schools are free to attend, and resources allocated to the schools are used to educate students, just like any other public school. These resources pay teacher and staff salaries, purchase textbooks and other curricular materials, maintain facilities, and other costs of ensuring students receive a high quality education. Charter schools are even required by law to undergo an independent audit every year that must be certified by the state, to ensure strong financial practices.
No. Like any other public school, charter schools provide learning opportunities for students of all abilities and achieve strong results with their full student populations, among them special needs, gifted, and English Language Learners. Tennessee charter schools are not allowed to recruit students based on ability or performance, nor are they allowed to turn away students for any reason.
This will vary from school to school. Charter schools are required to notify parents about transportation options available for their students. If a charter school chooses to provide student transportation through the local school district, an agreement shall be made with the local education agency to do so. If charter schools identify a more cost-effective means of transportation outside of the local education agency, the charter school receives funding that would have been spent with the local education agency to put towards that method. If the charter school does not provide transportation, they do not receive funds from the local education agency that would have gone towards transporting their students.
Charter schools do not have traditional school boundaries like district schools, which allows many charter schools to attract a diverse student body. Charter schools are restricted by state limits and some have city limits as well. Visit our Schools page for more information about charter schools in your area.
No. Public charter schools are required by law to serve any student who applies regardless of special needs or academic performance and are bound by the same federal civil rights laws as any other public school. If schools have more applicants than available seats, they are required to conduct a blind lottery that must be certified by outside accountants to ensure objectivity.
Authorizers are the institutions that decide who can start a new charter school, set expectations and oversee school performance, and decide which schools should continue to serve students or not. In Tennessee, most charter school authorizers are local school districts. Some charter schools are authorized by the State Achievement School District and tasked with school turnaround. Some schools are authorized by the Tennessee Charter School Commission, a statewide body that evaluates charter school applications upon appeal.
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We are raising the bar of excellence and ensuring all children in Tennessee have access to high-quality education.