Parents have a choice when it comes to where they want to send their kids to school. These days they can choose to send them to any number of public, private, and even virtual schools. But some of the time, their first choice isn't where their child ends up.

Charter schools are publicly funded and open to Arizona residents. However, a history of strong academic success can sometimes spell maximum capacities for some of these schools and that means lotteries for open spots and wait lists for those who don't get lucky. State law says that charter schools are not required to accept students past their capacity.

Charter schools were established by the state Legislature in 1994 and there are currently more than 600 charter schools in Arizona. These schools sign a contract, or charter, with the state to provide a free public education to any student. Some charters might focus on specific subjects, like fine arts for example, or choose to be an all-girls or all-boys school. And some charters are similar to traditional district public schools.

"Charter schools must adopt a charter that serves as a private set of rules to be governed by and by which they are held accountable," Ryan Ducharme, executive director for the Office of Communications and Innovation at the Arizona Department of Education, said in an email. "To receive a charter, a written application is required to be sponsored by a school district governing board, the state board of education, the state board of charter schools, a university, community college or group of community college districts... Every charter school must submit a detailed business plan as part of their charter application."

Like public school districts, a charter school must have a governing body for policy decisions.

But unlike districts, where governing boards are elected, charters appoint their own governing boards. Charters also may have their charter revoked if they fail to meet state academic standards.

There are a lot of options out there for parents and those choices only increase if they have the will to stick out a waiting list or plunk down the funds for a private school.

In Ahwatukee Foothills alone, there are a number of charter schools, including Horizon Community Learning Center, Sonoran Science Academy and Ahwatukee Foothills Prep, in addition to schools operated by the Kyrene Elementary School District.

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