Public, private, and charter schools: How they compare

By The Understood Team

Choosing a school can be tough. It’s not always easy to understand the options outside of public schools. Public, charter, and private schools offer different benefits for kids.

Here’s an overview of each, and the key things to know for kids who learn and think differently.

Overview

Public schools

  • Run by local school districts
  • Funded by the public
  • Must follow all state and federal education laws

Charter schools

  • Independent public schools
  • Funded by the public or private donors
  • Must follow education laws, but have freedom from some rules

Private schools

  • Run by private organizations
  • Funded privately
  • Little to no government oversight

Key differences

Kids must apply to attend:

  • Public schools: No. But some public magnet schools may require applications.
  • Charter schools: Yes.
  • Private schools: Yes.

It’s free to attend:

  • Public schools: Yes.
  • Charter schools: Yes.
  • Private schools: No.

May reject kids because they have , or learn and think differently:

  • Public schools: No.
  • Charter schools: No. Charters also can’t “counsel out” or discourage kids from attending.
  • Private schools: No. But private schools can reject applicants for almost any reason.

Required by law to provide special education services and IEPs:

  • Public schools: Yes.
  • Charter schools: Yes. But charters may not have the same specialists or services as traditional public schools.
  • Private schools: No. However, a local school district may provide services to a child in private school through a service plan.

Required by law to provide classroom accommodations:

  • Public schools: Yes.
  • Charter schools: Yes.
  • Private schools: Yes. But the required accommodations are more limited.

Required by law to provide 504 plans:

  • Public schools: Yes.
  • Charter schools: Yes.
  • Private schools: No.

General education teachers must be state-certified:

  • Public schools: Yes.
  • Charter schools: Maybe. It depends on the laws of your state.
  • Private schools: Maybe. It depends on the laws of your state.

Special education teachers must be state-certified:

  • Public schools: Yes.
  • Charter schools: Maybe. It depends on the laws of your state.
  • Private schools: No.

Specializes in teaching kids who learn and think differently:

Students are required by law to meet state academic standards:

  • Public schools: Yes.
  • Charter schools: Yes.
  • Private schools: No.
  • Public schools: Yes.
  • Charter schools: Yes.
  • Private schools: No.

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    About the author

    About the author

    The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Melody Musgrove, EdD served as director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education.