Spring is school application season in New York City, and with hundreds of schools to choose from, finding the best one for your child can be overwhelming. Public schools and private schools are familiar, but just what are charter schools?

Charter schools became more prevalent in response to President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which allows students attending underperforming schools to transfer to another school in their district, regardless of whether it’s public, private or charter.

If you’re considering sending your child to a charter school, here are some things to keep in mind.

Charter schools are public schools. They’re free to every student and must meet rigorous statewide academic standards or will otherwise be shut down. Typically, charter schools are started by a group of teachers, parents and administrators who submit a lengthy proposal that must be authorized by the New York State Board of Regents, the State University of New York board of trustees and local boards of education. Each charter is for five years and must be re-evaluated before renewal.

Charter schools operate independently. Though they’re public, charter schools operate independently of the city’s Department of Education. They adhere to a charter, which is a mission statement or performance contract approved by educational authorizers, and have more freedom in the way they’re run. They can develop their own curriculum, operate their own budget, choose their own staff, establish codes of conduct for students, set educational goals and create their own calendar, which can include a longer school day or year. They can offer individualized methods of learning, focus on specific subjects and respond to community needs.

At the same time, charter schools are commonly located within existing public schools, which has been a recent source of controversy under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Charter schools are becoming increasingly competitive. Last year, more than 69,000 students applied for 18,600 spots in New York City charter schools. When there is an overwhelming number of applicants for just a few spaces, schools hold lotteries. By law, preference is given to siblings of students who already attend the school and students who reside in the school’s district. Charter schools can also give preference to students who are at risk of academic failure. These students can include English language learners, those who did not meet statewide standards, and students who are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Each charter school has its own application process. Still, many of the applications are due by April 1.

The ABCs on applying to charter schools

Every charter school’s application process is different. But if you’re considering applying, here are some key things to keep in mind. Most important to remember — applications for most schools are due by April 1, some even earlier, so don’t delay.
 
Anyone can apply to a charter school. 

They are open to all children, starting with kindergarten, regardless of their academic skills or where they live in the city.
 
Charter schools operate on a first-come, first-served basis.

When more children than there are seats available apply, charter schools hold random admissions lotteries. By law, charter schools must give preference in these lotteries to returning students, siblings of currently enrolled students and students who live in the community school district where the charter school is located.
 
Students can apply to more than one charter school.

They must fill out an application for each school they are interested in attending. To help simplify the process, you can use the Charter Center’s Common Online Charter School Application. As charter schools are in high demand, admission is determined by a lottery system.
 
If selected, you no longer have to participate in the lottery to attend each year. Those students not enrolled will be placed on a waiting list.