A reader asked me to describe the differences between charter schools and magnet schools

This is what came to mind.

I welcome readers’ thoughts about other differences.

Magnet schools and charter schools have superficial similarities. They may or may not be selective. Their differences are greater than their similarities.

Magnet schools were initially created by local school boards in the late 1960s and 1970s to promote racial integration. The idea behind them was that a theme like the arts, or the sciences, would attract so many applicants that the school could select a racially diverse student body. Charter schools rarely seek racial integration; many charter schools are one-race, one-ethnicity. The UCLA Civil Rights Project warns that charter schools are more segregated than the districts in which they are located.

Another significant difference is that a magnet school is part of the public school system, the result of a decision by a democratic board to create a school for a special purpose. By contrast, a charter school requires a transfer of public funds to private management; it is a form of privatization.

The magnet school is subject to the same laws, rules and regulations as other public schools; the charter is exempt from most of the laws, rules and regulations applied to public schools.

Magnet schools don’t boast of their higher scores because everyone understands that they have a selection process and do not represent a random representation of all students; charter schools do boast of their higher scores (when they have them) and claim to be “better” than public schools and deserving of more public and private funding.

Magnet schools have the same funding sources as public schools; charter schools have private boards which are able to raise additional funding for them. In some districts, like New York City, charters spend more than public schools.

Another difference is the workforce: where unions are permitted by law, public school teachers are part of a union or collective bargaining unit; this is not true for charters. Nearly 90% of charters do not have unions.

Some charter schools are owned by for-profit corporations; some part of the tax dollars they receive are paid to investors and stock-holders. Some charter schools are nonprofit but pay exorbitant executive salaries and management fees; it is a matter of record that some high-profile charter leaders are paid $300,000-500,000 annually to oversee a small number of (non-profit) charter schools. The charters pay a hefty management fee to those who run them. A well-known charter chain in New York City is paid a management fee of $2,000 per student, all from taxpayer funds. That’s a nice income for a “nonprofit.” One charter in Pennsylvania pays a management fee of $16 million to chief executive officer, whose for-profit company supplies all goods and services to the charter.

No public schools are run by for-profit organizations.

Magnet schools are part of the public system; charters are part of a separate system, which has its own interests, its own lobbyists, its own separate advocacy organizations.