Niche Resources
private vs charter

Charter Schools vs. Private Schools

It may surprise you to know that charter schools are not private schools, but charter schools can certainly be described as private-ish, since they draw up their own curriculums and aren’t tied to certain state standards. So what exactly are the differences between the two?

In a Nutshell

Charter schools are public schools that are independent of school districts through contracts with state or local boards.

As public schools, charter schools are open to all children, do not require entrance exams, cannot charge tuition, and must participate in state testing and federal accountability programs. The schools draw up their own “charter” which is a set of rules and performance standards that they are held accountable to.

More: What is a Charter School?

Private schools are non-governmental schools that are not administered by local, state, or national governments. 

Because they do not accept public funding of any kind (instead using tuition charged to students as their source of funding), they can be selective about which students to admit to their schools. Admission often involves a more in-depth application process, like requiring entrance exams and interviews. Private schools are autonomous at the federal level, but must adhere to basic state guidelines (such as agreeing to teach reading & math, and adhering to building codes).

More: Private School vs. Public Schools Breakdown

Comparing Charter Schools and Private Schools

Category Private Schools Charter Schools
Category Costs
Private Schools Tuition to enroll
Charter Schools No tuition to enroll
Category Funding
Private Schools Funded independently through tuition, grants, alumni, and community
Charter Schools Funded on a per-pupil basis with government funds
Category Government Regulation
Private Schools Autonomous at the federal level but must adhere to some basic state guidelines. Accreditation is optional.
Charter Schools Independently run, but must meet standards outlined in their charter in order to secure state funding
Category Teacher Certification
Private Schools Teachers don't necessarily have to be certified
Charter Schools Teachers don't necessarily have to be certified, but this differs from state to state
Category Curriculum Flexibility
Private Schools Flexibility with curriculum
Charter Schools Curriculum is also flexible, but school is held accountable to a performance contract
Category Application Process
Private Schools Application process can be rigorous, based on entrance exams and interviews
Charter Schools May have an application, but students do not have to take an entrance exam
Category Selectivity
Private Schools Can be selective about which students to enroll (e.g. all-girls schools)
Charter Schools Cannot legally discriminate against students

Charter schools and private schools are similar in their autonomy from certain state government regulations and teacher certification, but their funding sources and application process separate them more drastically. Since charter schools are public schools, they must legally accept all children, though sometimes children are accepted through a lottery system if the charter school is popular and gets more applications than seats it can fill.

Private schools aren’t completely off the hook when it comes to state regulations — they must adhere to a very basic set of state regulations, which differ from state to state. Some examples of items included in these regulations are the length of school year, guarantees of types of subject matter (like reading, writing, math, biology), public health and safety requirements, etc.

Basic Statistics

of students attend charter schools in the US
of students attend private schools in the US
of private schools have a religious affiliation
of private schools have less than 50 students
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Want to learn more about charter school statistics? With so much misinformation about charter schools in the media, we thought we’d share just the facts: what charter schools are, where they are, who goes to them, and how they’re performing.

Check out:  Just the Facts: Charter School Statistics

Continue Your Research

Research Charter & Private Schools on Niche

Author: Alex Caffee

Former Marketing and Business Analyst at Niche. Dessert aficionado. Currently living and working in New York City.