With the first US charter school opening its doors in 1992, and the first in New York City opening in Harlem in 1999, the concept of a charter school is still relatively new, and its benefits to the public education system have been subject to partisan debate for decades. Let’s explore…

First off…what is a charter school?

A charter school is an independently-operated public school. These schools are state-funded (hence being branded as a public school), but what makes them different from the conventional state-backed school is that they are not state-run. Therefore, the “owners” of these institutions are responsible for making sure that their schools, and the students within, are meeting the high standards that their charters promise. If they don’t meet their goals, they can be shut down much more easily than their public school counterparts.

Being independent means that charter schools can create their own curriculum and provide different, unique, and non-conventional methods of education to students. Many parents view this foundation of increased flexibility and accountability on which charter schools are built as the solution to their children’s schooling, as teachers have the freedom to create lesson plans that may be more interactive and effective, while ensuring student success.

In what ways are charter schools influencing New York City?

It is well known that children in impoverished areas have severely decreased access to a quality education. This is where charter schools make the biggest impact, as they provide their students with an education unbound by zip codes and wealth, and more importantly, the public school downfalls that come with both; more than 80% of charter school students come from low-income families, and more than 90% are of Hispanic or African-American descent.

The question is not whether charter schools allow for greater educational opportunity, but rather if they drive improved educational outcomes. In 2018, the percentage of NYC charter school students who scored “proficient” or “exceedingly proficient” in the state tests outweighed the scores of students in traditional state public schools by 12.8% for English Language Arts and 15.8% for Math! Not only do charter school test scores themselves outperform that of New York State public schools, but these institutions have also seen more growth in overall student proficiency – that of charter schools grew by an average of 7.5% from 2017 to 2018, while public schools only did by around 6%.

Although we are coming to realize that test scores aren’t always the most accurate way of measuring intelligence or educational expertise, the relative of performance speaks to the school of thought that charter schools do improve educational outcomes.

How have they grown since their inception?

Since Sisulu-Walker—New York’s first charter school—opened in Harlem in 1999, the number of charter schools in New York City have skyrocketed; as of Spring 2018, a grand total of 235 have been approved to operate, and these schools service over 120,000 students, or an estimated 8% of New York State’s total public school enrollment.

Despite this massive expansion,  there are more than 50,000 families with children wait-listed to get into these educational institutions; with charter schools only having about half of that amount available in seats, there is a huge discrepancy in supply and demand for this form of education.

Not to worry—the growth of these schools isn’t stopping! Early in April 2019, the US Department of Education awarded $10 million dollars to charter school operator Success Academy so that they could open six new schools, and with multi-million dollar expansions happening in existing charter schools such as Public Prep (courtesy of Vicus – view case study here), we can expect to see many more seats open up for the booming amount of applicants.

How does Vicus play a key role?

It’s clear that charter schools will continue to serve a growing number of students and fulfill improved educational opportunity and outcome. Their growth has not only impacted the hundreds of thousands of students and parents served, but also the real estate market. As charter networks expand to serve increasing demand, the need for space outweighs the supply from the Department of Education, so charter school networks must look to privately owned community facility space to serve their neighborhoods. Further, a recent increase from 20% to 30% of per-pupil funding allocated to facilities has improved charter schools’ ability to take this privately owned space. That’s where Vicus comes in.

Our team has 10 years of experience helping charter school networks open new doors, with recent experience including:

  • Public Prep (Nominated for the Most Ingenious Deal of the Year in 2016)

  • Success Academy

  • Bronx Academy of Promise

  • New Dawn Charter

  • Bronx Charter School for the Arts

We’d love to help find a solution for your next charter school.  Please contact Andrew Stein at