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Charter schools are public schools. They are governed by non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations that have a contract or charter to provide the same educational services to students as district public schools. They are tuition-free public schools that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools.

Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor, usually a state or local school board, to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for this accountability. They are accountable for both academic results (such as FCAT in Florida and the Federal requirements under No Child Left Behind) as well as fiscal practices to several groups: the sponsor that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them