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Charter Schools vs. Private Schools — How Are They Different?

Finding a school that’s a good match for your children, your family, and your values can require long, careful consideration. Many families look for options beyond a traditional public school, which generally include charter schools and private schools. Understanding the differences between these two types of schools and the advantages each has to offer can help you find the best fit for your family.

Differences between Charter Schools and Private Schools

While private schools are familiar to most people, charter schools can be a more confusing concept. Many parents are unsure if charter schools are public, private, or some combination of the two. Charter schools are, in fact, independently run public schools, but they can be quite a bit different from both traditional public schools and private schools.

Differences in How Charter and Private Schools Are Structured

The ways in which schools are organized and run are some primary differences between the two types. They include:

  1. Funding — Charter schools are public schools, so they are funded with the same methods that traditional public schools use. For Nevada, that means the Nevada Plan, using state and local tax dollars. Private schools, on the other hand, do not receive any direct government funding, and instead rely on tuition, endowments, gifts, investments, and other non-public funding. At Las Vegas Day School, we run on a tuition-only basis, and do not accept gifts or federal funding.
  2. Admissions — Because charter schools are public schools, they must admit all students who choose to attend there, as long as space is available (random lotteries are usually used when there are more applicants than space allows). Private schools, on the other hand, may set their own admissions requirements and be as selective as they choose in admissions decisions, except for any discrimination against a protected group — that is, admission can’t be denied purely due to gender, race, and to some extent, religion. At LVDS, we consider all applications for admission without regard to sex, race, religion, national or ethnic origin or disability.
  3. Tuition — As tax-dollar-funded institutions, charter schools cannot charge tuition. Private schools typically do charge tuition, which usually makes up the bulk of their funding. In many states, school voucher programs allow a student’s percentage of public school funding to be paid to a charter or private school, under certain conditions. So-called school choice programs are often tied to public school performance or family income. In Nevada, the Educational Choice Scholarship Program offers a tax credit to a limited number of families to help pay for tuition at a private school of their choosing, if they so desire.
  4. Accountability — Charter schools are accountable to their school boards and must meet the same educational and regulatory requirements as other public schools in their states. Private schools are accountable to the families who make up their school community, their boards of trustees, and must also meet numerous state and federal requirements concerning health, safety, and other legal specifications. Private schools must also generally be licensed by a state’s department of education, and most higher-quality private schools also seek out third-party accreditation. Las Vegas Day School is, of course, licensed by the state of Nevada, and is proud to be accredited by Cognia, meaning we meet or exceed their international performance standards.

Differences in Student Experiences in Charter and Private Schools

Charter schools and private schools often have different resources, and usually offer students a different school environment and experience.

  1. Spending per student — Charter schools are limited in their spending per student. Because each state funds charter schools differently, that amount can vary, but is typically close to the per-student funding from a student’s public school district or a statewide funding level. Private schools, on the other hand, have the opportunity to spend any amount they choose per student, as long as minimum legal requirements are met. Of course, for most private schools, per-student spending is quite a bit higher than in public/charter schools, and reflects the specialized and enhanced offerings a private school has the resources to offer.
  2. Curriculum — As publicly-funded schools, charter schools must generally adhere to state and federal guidelines with respect to their curriculum. This can include “common core” and other mandated content and approaches. Private schools must meet certain basic educational requirements put forth at local, state, and federal levels, but may otherwise select and design their own curriculums to best suit their students and their educational mission. In many cases, private schools may offer a more rigorous or challenging curriculum, while religious or parochial private schools typically include religious instruction as part of their curriculum.
  3. Class Size — Space, funding, and staffing constraints mean that public and charter schools will often need to fit in as many students per class as possible. Private schools, however, can very easily set limits on class size, so that student-to-teacher ratios are always at a desirable level.
  4. Faculty  — Nationally, at a minimum, school teachers need only a bachelor’s degree in education and a teaching license. State and local regulations can set additional requirements, such as a degree in their field for high school teachers, or supervised student teaching hours. In Nevada, teachers must also have completed a teaching preparation program and passed several skills and content exams. Turnover rates for public school teachers are famously high, and burnout is a common complaint, even among fairly new teachers. Teaching faculty in private schools must still meet minimum requirements, but in many cases, they exceed those requirements, and often report higher job satisfaction than their charter or public school counterparts. Our LVDS teaching staff have the support they need, with nearly a quarter of them having been with us for fifteen years or longer, and the majority of our staff have also earned master’s degrees.
  5. Testing and Assessments — It’s no secret that charter and other public schools seem to be filled with standardized testing requirements at all levels, resulting in frequent complaints of “teaching to the test” and little time available for those teachers to innovate or explore expanded topics. Most private schools offer equivalent or better assessment results with much more limited testing requirements. At LVDS, we have selected the nationally-recognized ERB test to evaluate student achievement once each year.

Ultimately, your family’s values and choices will help you find the best fitting educational experience for each child, whether it’s a public, charter, or private school. If an LVDS education sounds like a good match for your family, we welcome you to contact us to learn more about our kinderschool through middle school programs, and arrange a tour of our Las Vegas campus.

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