This is an excellent question. Charter schools are public schools - just like your traditional neighborhood school - except that they have greater autonomy from the local school board (e.g.., they can often hire and fire principals and teachers more easily than traditional public schools), and they can set admissions policies. They are not funded at the same level as traditional public schools - overall they get less money (about 70% as much as traditional public schools, I believe). Charter schools can accept funds directly from private sources and nonprofit foundations.
I know you didn't ask about admissions but it's a confusing area for many parents and schools. In terms of admissions, they still cannot discriminate against minorities or students with disabilities. However, in terms of accepting and retaining students with disabilities, they may or may not have the ability/resources to serve every disabled child. This is a developing area of the law which differs according to the particular circumstances of a child.
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