In the past 25 years, 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed charter school laws. In general, charter schools receive public funding the way traditional public schools do, but operate independently of local school boards or superintendents. Charter schools have used this autonomy in a variety of ways to structure their schools and classrooms innovatively.
Allowing charter schools to operate is a policy lever that can encourage innovation and improvement in the education sector through competition. Yet, for charter schools to encourage school choice and competition, students must have reasonable access to them. In this Hamilton Project interactive, you can examine the variation in charter school access and enrollment by state, both over time and across student characteristics.
These comparisons are based on our calculations using the Common Core of Data (1999, 2004, 2009, 2013, 2014) produced by the US Department of Education. As the interactive shows, access to charter schools has grown over the past two decades and differs dramatically across states. While the vast majority of states—41 in all—had at least one charter school in the 2014-15 school year, states vary widely in the extent to which students have access to charter schools.