I'm just as outraged as Jamie about the general American populace's ignorance about charters... but I can't say I'm surprised. Take for example this survey of federal spending from the U.S. Census Bureau. Here's how they define charters:
The data in this report include only those charter schools established and administratively controlled by another government entity (e.g. universities, cities, counties, or public school systems). The data for these "public charter schools" are collected as separate, individual units, or are included with the data for their chartering government. Charter schools that do not meet Census Bureau criteria for classification as a government entity are considered "private charter schools" and are not included in this report.
In order for a charter school to be classified as a "public charter school" it must meet the same requirements as any other government. It must be an organized entity, with substantial autonomy, and government character. Typically if the schoolboard is appointed by public officials then the charter school would be classified as governmental. A few "public charter schools" are run by public universities, and municipalities. However, most charter schools are run by private nonprofitorganizations and are therefore classified as private.
HUH? No wonder everyone's confused when a freaking federal department can't even get it right. I don't know what a private charter school is, but if you see one in the wild, snap a photo and we'll submit it as a new species.
It surely doesn't help, either, that states from Massachusetts to West Virginia have invented all sorts of "charter-lite" options--schools that share almost all of the same characteristics as real charter schools except, usually, who's running them. We probably shouldn't be surprised that government officials, federal, state, or local, have an irrational phobia of delegating responsibility, but it seems that phobia causes much of the confusion. Charter schools are not run by the government--and that's the whole point--but they are still PUBLIC SCHOOLS. (Hey, U.S. Census Bureau, I'm looking at YOU.)