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Charter and Other Operator-Run Schools

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City Schools has three distinct types of operator-run schools – charter schools, contract schools, and transformation schools. Find information below about operator-run schools and how to apply. 

Operator-Run Schools

Charter Schools:

Charter schools are the most common of the operator-run schools. These are public schools that each have a charter, or performance contract, detailing its program, goals, and methods of assessment. These schools are run by outside entities with increased autonomy in many areas of decision-making. Charter schools are also governed by Maryland Charter Law. Additionally, there are two types of charter schools – wholly new charter schools, which are schools that were created and approved via a Board approval process, and neighborhood (or conversion) charter schools, which were existing traditional schools that converted to become charters schools through a Board approval process and meet the requirements of Maryland Public Charter Law. Neighborhood charters continue to serve a neighborhood zone.

City Schools currently has 31 charter schools within its portfolio. Contact the school for up-to-date information about availability by grade level.

Wholly-new Charter Schools:
school list
Contract Schools:

Contract schools are citywide public schools operated under contracts with outside entities. Their budgets follow the charter school formula, and they are generally granted the same autonomies as charters and like charters are governed by a performance contract, detailing its program, goals, and methods of assessment. Contract schools may have unique enrollment processes detailed in their contracts. There are currently two contract schools operating in City Schools’ portfolio:

Transformation Schools:

Transformation schools are secondary public schools open to all students from across the city and operated by independent nonprofit entities. City Schools currently has three schools of this type in operation, and each has a specific theme and a unique curriculum that focuses on college, career, or alternative programming. The district has two of these schools:

  • The REACH! Partnership School – (choice process)
  • Baltimore Design School – (special application process – please visit the school’s website for details. It includes both an application and an interest survey for students interested in middle school; for high school students apply directly via an application and must be successful in a Portfolio Review that determines placement and entry to the high school)
    • (seats available)

Applying to Operator-Run Schools

While some of City Schools’ operator-run schools participate in the district’s choice process (ConneXions: A Community Based Arts School and The REACH! Partnership School), others admit students based on an interview process (Bard High School Early College Baltimore), a portfolio process (Baltimore Design School for its high school program), or an interest survey (Baltimore Design School for its middle school program). Learn more about the choice process or schools with special applications.

However, the majority of operator-run schools which are mostly charter schools, admit students based on a public school-based lottery. Families interested in seats at these schools must submit an application, and if the school has more applicants than they can accept, the school will hold a public lottery to randomly identify students, after accounting for legally allowable preferences, to offer seats and generate the school’s wait list.

Families must submit a student application for entry to wholly-new charter schools. This can be through a school-based lottery process or through the choice process. For neighborhood charter schools, students who live in the neighborhood zone do not need to apply via a school-based lottery and can enroll in the same way as one would enroll in a traditional neighborhood school. Students who live out of the zone who wish to attend these schools must apply via a school-based lottery process. 

School-Based Lottery Rules and Timeline

  • February 15, 2023: Deadline for accepting applications from families
  • February 20-March 3, 2023: Charter lottery window
  • March 9, 2023: Schools notify families of lottery results
  • April 14, 2023: Deadline for families to confirm or decline acceptance

All charter and contract schools must broadly publicize the location and timing of their lotteries, and all schools share the same deadline. Lotteries must be held in public and the results must be shared publicly. All applications submitted by the February 15, 2023 deadline become part of the publicly drawn lottery, after accounting for preferences, in random order until capacity is reached, and the remainder of the applications are placed on the wait list.

All charter schools grant preferences for siblings, children of original founders, and children of staff members that are City residents. There are some schools who have Board-approved enrollment preferences for other categories such as geographic preferences, or for students who are in certain categories, including students:

  1. with limited English proficiency, 
  2. eligible for free or reduced-price meals; 
  3. with disabilities; 
  4. classified as Homeless, as defined under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act; or
  5. residing in a geographic attendance area with a median income that is equal to or less than the median income of the county for the public charter school.

No later than March 9, 2023, family notification letters are sent to any family that applied to the school(s), and families have until April 14, 2023 to accept or decline a seat offer. Any applications received post-enrollment period are added to the wait list in the order they are received. As spaces become available at the school, they are offered to the waitlisted applicants according to their order of placement on the wait list.

Non-city residents may apply to charter and contract schools; however, these students may be enrolled only after all city residents have been offered a seat. If accepted, these families will be charged tuition by the Office of Enrollment, Choice, and Transfers.


How do I apply to a charter school?

For all charter schools except those that use the choice process, families can apply to a school by completing the online application through the school’s website or picking up a paper copy from the school.  If the charter school uses the choice process, families should add the school to their choice form along with other schools in order of their preference. Learn about the choice process

Are there any contract schools that use a school-based lottery?

Yes, families interested in Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School should apply by completing the online application on the school’s website or picking up a paper copy from the school. The answers to the questions in this FAQ also apply to Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School. Please see the school’s page for specific information about its process.

Can I apply to multiple schools?

Yes, students can apply to as many schools as serve their grade level.  However, if a student receives multiple acceptances, they must choose a single school by the confirmation deadline on April 14, 2023.

Can students who receive special education or have Individualized Learning Plans apply to charter and contract schools?

Yes. Charter and contract schools are public schools and must be open to all students and meet the needs of students with IEPS in the same manner as traditional schools. Charter and contract schools must accommodate the special education needs of students whose least restrictive environment is a general education school; this includes students with LRE-A, LRE-B and LRE-C needs. Schools cannot ask about special education status on applications to charter or contract school lotteries.

Can I attend a school-based lottery?

Yes. All school-based lotteries are held in a public forum. Lottery dates and times must be listed on the school’s application, website and in front areas of the schools.

How long does a student stay on a waitlist?

Waitlists are valid for one school year. If a student is waitlisted but not admitted during that year, they must reapply the following year to be considered for admission in the following year and participate in the lottery process again.

What is the definition of sibling?

A sibling is a brother or sister of the student, or a child who is the legal responsibility of the student’s parent or guardian. To prove sibling status, your family must submit birth certificates, adoption documents, or custody/guardianship papers for each student.

How does City Schools ensure schools conduct school-based lotteries according to district policy and guidelines?

An independent observer from the district observes each of these lotteries. The observer is there to make sure the school is conducting the lottery correctly and following all rules and policies that govern the lottery, to document the lottery procedures, and to offer guidance if a problem arises during the lottery.

Learn more

Opening and Operating a Charter School

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