What is a Charter School?

Middle school boys pose in front of a mural

An Intentional Learning Community

Charter schools are public schools that are given increased freedom to be innovative in exchange for a higher level of accountability for improved student achievement.

In 1998, seven San Francisco parents formed a nonprofit organization that is referred to as the charter operator: Gateway Public Schools. Gateway entered into a contract with the San Francisco Unified School District for the right to operate Gateway High School. Because of the contract — or “charter” — we are called a charter school.

What is a Charter School?

A charter school is an independently run public school that is granted greater flexibility in its operations than a traditional public school in exchange for greater accountability for performance. Charter schools operate under a “charter,” which is a contract between the school and its authorizing agency (Gateway's authorizing agency is the San Francisco Unified School District). The charter both authorizes the school’s existence and outlines the terms and conditions of its operations. 

What is the Purpose of a Charter School?

Charter schools were created to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, students and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure as a method to improve student learning; increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are traditionally underserved; encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods; create new opportunities for teachers; provide parents and students more options in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system; and provide competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools.

Are Charter Schools Public Schools?

Yes! Charter schools like Gateway are public schools.  They receive public funds, are tuition-free and are open to any student who wishes to attend.

How do Charter Schools Differ from Other Public Schools?

Charter schools are exempt from many of the laws and regulations that apply to other public schools.  They have greater autonomy in terms of curriculum, textbooks, instructional methods and class schedules as well as financial and personnel decisions.  In exchange for this increased autonomy, charters must demonstrate performance in the areas of academic achievement, financial management, and organizational stability.  

How are Charter Schools Funded?

In California, like other public schools, charter schools receive state and local tax dollars based on the number of pupils in attendance in each grade level.  Additional funding is provided for students with greater needs, such as low-income students and English language learners.  Public funding generally follows the student to the public school the parents choose, regardless of whether it is a charter school or a traditional district school.

Through special events, grants, and donations from the community and our families, Gateway raises additional funds above and beyond what the state provides to sustain the programs and services necessary to open doors to our students’ future and prepare them to be the leaders, innovators, and scholars of tomorrow.