Frequently Asked Questions

Charter public schools are a local choice for many parents seeking a tuition-free, open-to-all public school option for their student. Unlike a private school, charter public schools are nonprofits and there is no cost for attending a charter public school. There is no entrance exam in order to attend. And just like traditional public schools in Washington, charter public schools in Washington are non-sectarian and non-religious.

Charter public schools are subject to the same state and national standards as charter public schools, but have additional flexibility for the students that they serve. The charter public school approach is student-centric. Charter Public Schools can reimagine education that is personalized for the families they serve and that holds adults accountable for student performance. In exchange for this additional flexibility, charter public schools are subject to rigorous oversight by a multi-pronged ecosystem that includes the Washington State Charter School Commission, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the State Auditor’s Office. In addition, each charter public school has its own Board of Directors that oversees school operations and ensures that it is performing in alignment with the metrics detailed in its performance framework, its organizational framework and codified in its charter compact with the Commission.

Current Family/Parents of Charter public schools

We recommend reaching out to your child’s teacher, principal, or another person who you trust at the school.

If your concerns aren’t resolved by talking to your child’s teacher, principal, or another person who you trust at the school, you can also contact the school’s Board of Directors. The school should list an email address for the Board of Directors on its website . If it is not listed, you can contact the principal or the Commission.

All Washington state charter public schools must meet the same academic requirements and standards as other public schools. You can review your school’s performance compared to other schools through the Washington State School Report Card, from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Washington State Charter School Commission’s website contains annual reports for each of its operational charter schools and these reports can be found on the Commission’s website.

In addition, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has a “report card” for every public school and those report cards are found on that agency’s website.

Yes! School Boards are required to have public comment at every regular meeting. You can sign up to speak during public comment or submit written public comment in advance. Check the School Board’s website and agenda, or contact your principal or the Commission, for assistance.

We recommend you contact your child’s teacher and/or principal to ask how to get involved.

Interested Family/Parent of charter public schools

A charter public school’s vision, mission and educational programming are developed specifically for the community they serve.

Each charter public school in Washington is operated by a non-profit, public benefit Board and operates independently according to the terms of a performance contract or “charter.” A charter contract is a fixed term, renewable contract between a qualified non-profit organization board and the Commission that outlines the roles, powers, responsibilities, and performance expectations for each party of the contract.

Every charter public school must meet the requirements of a Performance Framework but they retain the flexibility and autonomy that allows them to differ from traditional public schools when it comes to being student and community-centric.

Charter public schools can reimagine education that is personalized for the families they serve and that holds adults accountable for student performance. For families frustrated by the traditional public school system, charter public schools can flex more readily when it comes to identifying and unlocking the learning potential of their students. An authorized charter public school is streamlined from many of the layers within the traditional public school system which allows their teachers and administrators to develop and implement the learning experience that is best suited for the students they serve. However, this additional flexibility comes with tougher measures for student achievement and accountability for student outcomes. If a charter public school is not working, it cannot exist in perpetuity, but instead must address problems to put student needs first or risk being closed.

Learn more about individual charter public schools operating in Washington

Charter public schools are public schools. Like all public schools, they are open to all students, tuition-free, publicly-funded, staffed by certified teachers and held accountable to state and national standards.

Charter public schools are tuition-free. There is no additional cost.

No. Charter public schools are public schools and operate as nonprofits.

No. Charter public schools are public schools and are non-sectarian.

Charter public schools are public schools and open to all students. An authorized charter public school in Washington has committed to educational, organizational, and financial plans that ensure their students will have an education commensurate with their peers in traditional public schools but also prove cultural competency, inclusion and a culturally responsive education system.

Yes. All charter public schools are required to administer the same state tests in the same grade levels as traditional public schools.

Yes. Charter public schools are required to adhere to the same academic standards as traditional public schools, which prepare students for careers and/or college. In Washington, all high school students must meet credit requirements, graduation pathway option requirements, and have a High School and Beyond Plan.

Policy , Structure & Rules

The charter public school system is centered around state-authorized schools which, in exchange for more flexibility and autonomy in how they serve their students, are subject to additional oversight and increased measures of accountability.

In 2012, Washington voters approved Initiative Measure No. 1240 (I-1240) which established charter schools in Washington and today, is known as the Charter School Act. The Charter School Act outlines the powers and parameters of charter public schools in Washington. The Charter School Act grants certain authority to authorized districts and a state authorizer (the Commission) to authorize and oversee charter public schools. The Commission is one part of a multi-part system.

The Washington State Charter School Commission was established in April 2013. The Commission is an independent state agency that is part of a layered system of oversight including the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the State Auditor’s office (SAO) and the Board of Directors of each charter public school.

Charter School Accountability

Each charter public school in Washington is operated by a non-profit, public benefit Board and operates independently according to the terms of a performance contract or “charter.” A charter contract is a fixed term, renewable contract between a qualified non-profit organization board and the Commission that outlines the roles, powers, responsibilities and performance expectations for each party of the contract.
A certified non-profit, public benefit Board can apply for authorization to run a charter public school in Washington State. While the application window is currently closed, an overview of the application process for current charter public schools includes:

  • New Charter School Application
    – This is a state solicitation process governed by statutory requirements and state procurement laws. RCW 28A.710.130 dictates what must be included in each application.
    – The Commission’s Request for Proposal is revised each year to incorporate lessons learned based on feedback by multiple stakeholders.
    – Applications may only be submitted by a public benefit nonprofit corporation.
  • New Charter School Application Evaluation Rubric
    – The Commission uses a four-category rubric to clearly define expectations for both applicants and evaluators.
  • Notice of Intent
    – Organizations who intend to apply must submit a Notice of Intent to Apply.
    – The Commission notifies the district/s where the school intends to locate.
  • Completeness Review
    – All submitted applications are reviewed for completeness. This is not a qualitative review. This ensures a prudent use of state resources.
  • Evaluation Team Review
    – Five member evaluation teams are comprised of individuals. Typically a combination of members both internal and external to the organization. Some members are from Washington and others from outside of the state.
    – The individuals come with a variety of content knowledge, expertise, and experience.
    – All evaluators receive training from Commission staff to ensure consistent application of the evaluation standards.
    – Evaluators are screened for conflicts of interest.
  • Capacity Interview
    – Gives the evaluation team the opportunity to ask clarifying questions about the application.
    – Allows the evaluation team to probe or pressure-test specific components of the application.
    – Gives evaluators the ability to assess the capacity of the founding team to implement the program proposed in the application.
  • Public Forum
    – Designed as an opportunity for parents, community members, local residents and school district board members and staff to learn about and provide input on each application.
    – Public Forums are a required component of the application process.
    – They are not formally evaluated, but may be used to verify what is included in the application.
  • Recommendation Report
    – The report outlines the strengths and weaknesses of each application as identified by the evaluation team.
    – The report is merely a recommendation. Commissioners are not required to follow staff’s recommendation.
  • Commission Decision
    – Commissioners make the final decision to approve or deny an application.
    – If an application is denied, a comprehensive explanation must be provided.
    – Applicants cannot appeal the decision, but may protest the decision if they believe the Commission did not follow its own stated process.

The application and all associated documents will be evaluated and rated in accordance with the criteria set out in the rubric. The rubric is divided into four ratings, exceeds, meets standard, partially meets standard, and does not meet standard.

The application currently is made up of 29 sections, divided into three categories – educational plan and capacity, organizational plan and capacity, and financial plan and capacity. Proposals typically range in length from 600-700 pages and must include information, including but not limited to, community and family demand, the educational program and curriculum, instructional practices, plans to serve students with a variety of learning needs, board membership and oversight, leadership/staffing plans and professional development, plans for facilities, and budget proposals that indicate long-term health and sustainability.

After evaluation of the application and supporting documents, the capacity interview, and public input, the Commission will determine whether to approve, approve with conditions, or deny an application.

Charter public schools exist to meet the needs of students and families. They provide another option for parents beyond traditional public schools and can customize their curriculum to meet the needs of their students and the communities they serve. That flexibility comes with additional layers of accountability.

Charter public schools are tuition-free, public schools open to all students in the state of Washington. Charter public schools receive state apportionment funding and categorical funding such as Learning Assistance, Transitional Bilingual Education, Special Education, Highly Capable, and Transportation. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools do not receive funding from voter-approved local levies. There is no state funding source for school construction or modernization.

Yes (and more). A Charter public school adheres to a performance framework, which clearly states the expectations of Washington State Charter School Commission and is also monitored for compliance with state and federal laws and a variety of state agencies including the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Auditor’s Office. Charter public schools have additional requirements beyond those of traditional public schools in that they are held accountable for showing improved student achievement according to the terms of their charter.

Charter public schools operate within a multi-pronged system of accountability.

Charter Schools oversight in four parts

A difference between charter public schools and traditional public schools is that a charter public school not serving kids effectively is evaluated quickly and can be closed.

The Washington State Charter School Commission is the independent agency in our state government empowered by the Legislature with the mission of creating a rigorous and comprehensive proposal process for qualified non-profits who wish to open a charter public school. The agency also monitors and provides oversight, holding schools accountable to high standards of quality.

The Washington State Charter Schools Association is a non-profit organization that advocates to grow and sustain charter public schools across the state. While the Association has no formal role in the charter public school system in our state, the two organizations sometimes partner on specific issues such as identifying schools in need of support.

Overall, the Commission and the Association have distinct missions in Washington State as the regulator and advocate, respectively.

Some charter public schools are part of Charter Management Organizations, or CMOs. CMOs are non-profit organizations with one Board that operate multiple schools. Each individual charter school within a CMO still has its own contract with the Commission, is held accountable to the Commission, and is considered its own Local Education Agency by the state. Currently there are two CMOs in Washington state, Summit Public Schools of Washington (which has three authorized schools), and Impact Public Schools (which has four authorized schools).

Schools within CMOs are subject to even higher levels of accountability than stand-alone CMOs. For example, if the Commission identifies concerns about one school in a CMO, the Commission may require the CMO to address those concerns in all of the CMO’s schools without conducting an additional investigation or inquiry at each individual school. Also, if one school’s charter is revoked, then it is presumed that all other contracts between the CMO and the Commission shall be revoked. Additionally, a CMO that has been authorized to open one school must successfully execute its legal obligations to the satisfaction of the Commission before any subsequent school may open.


The 2021-2022 Washington State Legislature did not renew the authorization window for new charter public schools in 2022. Until the law is changed by the State Legislature, no new schools may apply for authorization.