The Differences Between Charter and Public Schools

When looking into the different schools you can put your child into, it can sometimes be unclear on what the differences are between all these different schools. Public and charter schools are the most common schools you can send your child to, but you may not know the difference between the two.

The most noticeable difference between public schools and charter schools is that a charter school is privately owned and has a slight amount of additional freedom in how they educate students. Public schools are government-owned and funded so they follow a strict curriculum that is set by the government.

The following will talk about what is unique about each type of school, which one may be best for your child, and how to find a charter school near you. When it comes to the education of your little ones, it’s important that you find the education that best suits them.

Public Schools

Public schools are just as they say, they are open to the public and funded by taxpayer money that goes to the local and federal governments. Public schools are placed in the majority of cities and towns across the United States so parents can make sure their child is able to get an education close to home. For those parents that both work and don’t have a lot of time to get their child to and from school, this is very convenient.

In the United States, there are over 130,000 public schools, ages K-12, across the nation. This allows almost every child in the nation to get an education without the worry of cost or transportation. Almost 90% of all children in the US attend a public school at some point in their life.

While public schools are placed conveniently to offer students an education near where they live, some students and parents still choose to travel to a different public school. With this being said, 71% of students attend the public school in their area, while the rest travel to another school.

Personal Experience

I was one of these students that traveled to a public school outside of my city limits, where I lived when I was in high school. This was due to the fact that I had a lot of friends attending this other high school and they had a lot more AP courses that were offered that I could take.

This would not prevent me from getting kicked out of the school though; if I were to choose not to follow some rules then I could be put on probation or expelled. I was considered a “permit” student, meaning I traveled to attend this public school. My parent’s taxes were not funding that specific school because they didn’t live in that city, so the school allowed me to be part of it if they weren’t at student capacity as long as I was following their specific rules.

If your child attends a public school within your city limits, they cannot be kicked out of the school or expelled unless they do something illegal on school property or are putting other classmates in danger. There is a certain amount of city taxes that go to funding public schools, so if your child attends a public school, whether within the city limits or not, the public school is free.

This may be a lot of information to take in at first, especially if you have never had to look into this before. I am going to break down the pros and cons of a public school to help give a clear understanding and vision.


  • Usually close to home
  • Can travel to different public schools if needed
  • Free because of government and taxpayer funding
  • Transportation by school bus (within city limits)
  • Teachers are required to have certain certifications and education levels
  • Free extracurricular activities provided by the public school
  • Can provide certain disability services to students with disabilities for free
  • Some public schools offer breakfast for those students in need


  • Large class sizes make it hard for students to get the one-on-one help they may need
  • Some public schools have reduced funding to art programs or have removed them completely
  • Standardized testing that is required of every student K-12
  • Some public schools shave low funding and are unable to get good educational resources
  • Not enough teachers to help staff public schools
  • Advanced students may not be able to move ahead or get into advanced classes
  • Below grade level, students may fall behind and not get the help they need
  • Due to state and federal laws, religion cannot be expressed and can be denied if spoken about
  • More behavioral issues in students
  • Forced curriculum provided by the government

Unfortunately, there are some pretty hefty downsides to a public school. If you’re wanting more control over your child’s education and are willing to travel, then putting them in a charter school may be better.

Charter Schools

If you’re a first-time parent and are researching schools for your child, you may not even know what a charter school is and how it differs from a public school. There aren’t many significant differences between a public school and a charter school, but they’re differences that can help your child significantly with their education.

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a privately owned school that agrees to meet certain criteria and produce certain results in order to gain access to educational freedoms. Charter schools are still considered public schools and free to anybody who wishes to attend them, the only major difference is the educational freedoms that they receive.

This makes charter schools very sought out because one charter school can base its learning around arts while another charter school can base its learning around science. This educational freedom is really great for students who are more independent and learn differently from others.

Personal Experience

I attended a charter school for a little while when I was in elementary school and overall, coming from my 9-year-old perspective, it was the extracurricular activities that made the school different from a public school. I went to Weilenmann School of Discovery located in Summit Park, Utah in 2010, but quickly switched back to a public school the following year.

The charter school I attended focused a lot on nature and we did a lot of outdoor activities throughout the year. Learning was definitely more hands-on compared to a public school and it was easier to keep up with learning in classrooms, and those that were advanced got to do more advanced things in different programs. Overall, it was a good experience, but my parents did travel quite far to get me there, so I ended up back in a local public school because of its distance.

Just as I did in the public school section, I am going to break down the pros and cons of charter schools and what you need to look for when trying to find a charter school for your child.


  • Fewer students attending the school
  • Smaller classroom sizes
  • Student success and family-based atmosphere
  • Offers different ways of learning
  • Can have more of an emphasis on certain subjects
  • Great teachers that are qualified
  • Less behavioral issues
  • Broad education for multiple different kinds of learning
  • Greater opportunities for students to learn things they otherwise could not
  • Students and teachers learn from each other


  • Transportation may potentially be required
  • More funding may be needed
  • May not have a diverse student population
  • Fewer extracurricular activities (including arts and sports programs)
  • May not be as stable as a public school
  • May not be as understanding and accepting of disabled students
  • Students are on a waitlist and can be accepted by merit
  • For-profit charters can have a lot of controversy behind them

Some of these cons can vary depending on what charter school you want your child to attend. Unlike public schools where their cons are pretty much across the board, the cons of charter schools can vary.

Which School is Best for my Child?

This is probably your number one question as a parent when researching schools to put your child at. I think this question has to be answered by your own parental intuition and understanding of how your child learns. With that being said, I would focus on how your child learns and talking directly with the schools about what education and resources they will provide for your child.

The biggest thing is understanding how your child learns and what hurdles they may have to overcome with learning. I personally have a math disability called dyscalculia and it was really hard in some schools versus others when learning math and overcoming those educational hurdles.

I found that the charter school was better at learning how to learn in order to teach me concepts. Public schools were absolutely terrible for me and my disability, especially in high school because their curriculum was a set curriculum and teachers could not divert from how the book was taught.

I suggest picking a school that will suit your child’s needs and how they learn. The best way to do this is to meet with the school’s principal or the school district that you plan to have your child attend. Gain an understanding of what the school can do for your child and how they will help your child succeed in school.

I think both public and charter schools are great for different reasons and can provide a great education for your child. I think what school will be best for your child and where you plan to have them attend will all be dependent on what you, as the parent, believe is best for your child’s learning.

In conclusion, both public and charter schools are fantastic for your child’s education. There are very few differences between the two, but those minor differences can be significant when it comes to your child’s education. If you want your child to have a learning environment based in the arts or the sciences, charter schools are the best for your child.

If you want your child to have more extracurricular activities and a general education, public schools are the best for your child. Make sure you contact the school or school district directly if you have any questions regarding your child’s education.