An emerging alternative arrangement for difficult-to-educate students is the charter school. Charter schools are autonomous publicly funded schools freed from most state and local regulations. A 1995 survey by the Education Commission of the States indicated that one-half of the charter schools in the seven states surveyed were designed to serve at-risk students.85 Charter schools serving at-risk students include Options for Youth Charter School in California, the Arizona Career Academy, and the Boston University Charter School for homeless students.

Some charter schools specialize in serving students with disabilities. The Metro Deaf Charter School in Minnesota, for example, serves students with hearing impairments. Borrowing on a concept from special education, many charter schools create Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for all their students, enabling them to customize education without labeling children. Charter law in several states allows private organizations to create and operate charter schools with public funding. As of Spring 1996, twenty-one states had passed charter-school laws.