Many Americans are unsure of exactly what a charter school is, yet our president released a proclamation at the end of April declaring the first week of May "National Charter School Week." The effectiveness and the need for charter schools has been hotly debated at local, state, and national levels. Advocates of typical public schools would prefer to see funding, staff, and resources channelled towards improving existing public schools and helping teachers that have been asking for help for years. Advocates of charter schools want to see change now and want the freedom to adapt curriculum to meet the individual needs of their schools and reinforce staff and students for their success. The debate will continue, with charter schools' popularity clearly gaining momentum.

Here's a brief look at charter schools as we celebrate National Charter School Week from May 2-8.

What is a charter school?A charter school is a public school that is not controlled by many of the regulations and protocols that a typical public school is governed by. They often have a governing board consisting of members from the community (parents, staff, local leaders, etc). Each charter school has a mission statement, which is the overall guideline for the school's curriculum, development, and focus. Charter schools are meant to create choice for parents and students, be innovative in the use and development of curriculum, and reward teachers who are fostering success in the classroom.

Who may attend a charter school?SInce it is a public school, anyone may attend. There may be a lottery to accept applicants, based on the number of slots available at a given school.

What curriculum is used? Based on the school's charter, or mission, a curriculum is created (or chosen) and implemented or adapted as the school's staff sees fit.

Who teaches at a charter school? Most often, state-certified teachers are employed at a charter school. Exceptions can be made and occasionally, non-certified staff are employed, most often when that person has years of experience in a specialized field.

Where does funding come from? Funding comes from the state and federal levels. Charter schools, like most other public schools, can also receive private donations.

Where are charter schools?SInce 1991, 40 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have all signed laws allowing charter schools. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools cites almost 5,000 charter schools currently operating within these areas.

The issue of charter schools often leads people to a clear pro or con stance. This is a brief overview of a topic that has and will continue to be part of this administration's discussion on education reform.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.