What is the Difference Between Charter and Magnet Schools?

School choice in Baton Rouge can be an overwhelming decision. Two popular options are charter schools and magnet schools. Often, these types of schools are either misunderstood or completely unfamiliar to parents. Though they are both outside of the traditional public school format, they are very different from one another.

Charter schools are public schools that are run by nonprofit organizations and not the school system. At their core, every charter school is created to serve as an innovative and independent public school, which means free of tuition. Since charter schools are publicly funded, Louisiana has laws providing for the minimum requirements a proposed charter school must meet before being approved for operation. The Louisiana Department of Education defines any charter school functioning in this state as an independent public school that provides a program of elementary and/or secondary education to provide a learning environment that will improve pupil achievement. In addition to providing innovative approaches to education, Louisiana’s Charter School Law expresses that charter schools should have in mind the best interests of at-risk pupils.

Magnet schools, on the other hand, are specialized schools that are public without tuition and are managed by the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS). Theresa Porter, the East Baton Rouge Parish Magnet School Director, clarifies, “Magnet Schools were developed to create exciting learning experiences that promote academic achievement for students with specific educational needs. In addition, the program is a proven model to increase diversity in the district. With over 20 competitive programs, these specialized programs offer students a quality education based on their learning styles, skills, and interests. The district offers dynamic, specialized programs, such as foreign language immersion, Montessori, visual, performing arts, digital arts and pre-engineering themes.”

How Each System Works

Charter schools, though independent from their respective school districts, are accountable to either the local school district or the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). Students apply to each charter school instead of being placed by the district. All charter schools are required to administer the same state assessments that students in traditional public schools are required to take. To receive an extension to operate for each additional school year, a charter school must meet rigorous student performance growth standards, as well as operate within an approved budget. Each charter school is governed by a Board of Directors, usually composed of educators, parents, and other members of the community. 

Magnet schools are different from charters not only because they are directly managed by EBRPSS and specialized, but also because of their application and selection process. Porter acknowledges, “The Magnet Program is based on an application process, with a board-approved selection policy. Therefore, students must apply for a program before they can be selected for a school.” The magnet school applications are imported into a lottery system, and the selection process is conducted electronically according to priority. Eligible students are assigned to either their first choice school, their second choice school, or placed in a waiting pool. After the selection is complete, testing may still be needed for some programs to complete the process. If the child meets requirements, then he or she is accepted into the magnet school, but if not, the parents can re-apply during a later application period.

The Right Choice

To be sure what’s the best course of education for their child, parents need to research all the choices and analyze what specific interests and skill sets their child has. Only the parent knows what environment will fit their child and his or her academic needs. The only way to know for sure though, is to get “boots on the ground” and see the schools personally. The best way to know if a school is right for your child is to tour the school first. Walking the grounds and halls of prospective schools really gives parents a great picture of the educational environment. Speaking with teachers and principals also brings another level of understanding that assists in making the right choice.

Both charter and magnet schools are viable and appealing options for parents, but one is the right fit for your child. Just like any educational decision, good research by the parents is a requirement before beginning the application process and enrolling their child. ■

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