The Technical Assistance section of the Charter School Resource Center has been developed to provide in-depth information about charter school operations in Georgia under six main topics: Mission Statements; Curriculum; Finances and Facilities; Accountability and Assessment; Governance and Leadership; and Students, Parents and the Community. There are many links, examples, explanations, and other resources to help organizers through the difficult processes of creating and maintaining charter schools in the state of Georgia, but while the Technical Assistance resources explain many charter school issues in detail, four basic areas must be addressed for a charter school to be successful: Academics, Business, Legal and Public Relations.
A charter provides a school with more freedom to help students by implementing effective educational programs – it does not provide a way for schools to sidestep academic accountability. While charter schools have more flexibility in designing their curricula, they must still meet the state curriculum standards and administer the same state-mandated assessments as traditional public schools.
Many charter schools develop problems because of a lack of expertise in the financial area. While the Charter Schools Resource Center provides information and many references concerning charter school finances as guides, school organizers are strongly encouraged to hire a business manager/accountant to handle this side of school operations.
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation provides a charter school legal waiver checklist online. This resource, however, is intended only as a reference, and it is crucial that petitioners consult with an attorney regarding their charter petitions.
As schools of choice, charter schools do not have captive audiences; they must attract and retain students. Also, although they are more autonomous than other schools, charter schools are not self-sufficient, and so must rely on communities to support them. Therefore, it is vital for a charter school to maintain a positive, active presence in its community, and to reach out for support to parents, the local school district and community groups.
What are charter schools?
Charter schools are public schools that are independent of the traditional public school governance structure. They are part of the public school system, but operate with near complete local control. Decisions concerning curriculum, school structure, discipline, staffing, and finances are made at the school level, through the terms of a school’scharter – defined in the law as “a performance-based contract between a local board and a charter petitioner or between the state board and a charter petitioner” O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2062 (1) – rather than mandated by a school district. Charter schools can be started by educators, parents, community groups, and other organizations. Attendance at charter schools is free, voluntary, and open to all students within a school’s attendance area.
How are charter schools different?
The Center for Education Reform identifies three basic ways that charter schools differ from traditional public schools: autonomy, accountability, and choice.
Charter schools are autonomous in that, through the terms of their charters, they are freed from many of the procedural difficulties and paperwork burdens imposed upon regular public schools. Without long lists of rules to comply with, charter schools are able to focus their attentions on raising student achievement, rather than spending their time on burdensome regulations that have little to do directly with education. The goals are improved achievement, higher-quality schools, and constituent satisfaction. The means are up to individual charter schools.
Charter schools are accountable to several constituent groups – students, parents, and the community – in ways that other public schools are not. The purpose of any charter school (and any other public school) should be to raise student achievement. Charter schools in Georgia must administer the same assessments as other public schools. If a charter school does not show the improvement it claims it will, or if it fails to meet other terms described in its charter, it can be given more guidance or oversight, it can be reconstituted or closed, or the students and parents can simply leave. If a traditional public school fails to improve or to serve its students in some important fashion, little can be done to change this, and the students are forced to stay there, regardless of what happens.
Charter schools are public schools of choice. Educators, parents, and other community groups choose to start charter schools. Parents choose to send their children to them. Parents can also choose not to send their children to them. Ultimately, charter schools provide the possibility for children to find the place that suits them best and can best fulfill their schooling needs.
Do charter schools take money from public schools?
Because charter schools are public schools, they receive public funding. With Georgia’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula, charter schools between 30 and 90 percent of the per-student funding that other public schools receive. They remove 100 percent of the cost of educating any particular student from the system, but only get 30-90 percent of the money a district would spend to educate that student. Charter schools draw on district funds, but they also leave school districts with fewer students to educate, and often bring in students who would not otherwise be on the district’s or state’s funding lists, such as dropouts, students who previously attended private schools or were homeschooled, and students from outside the district who choose to attend particular charter schools. The fundamental question is whether the dollars belong to children or to the system. In an educational environment where student achievement and constituent satisfaction are the ultimate goals, the money should “follow children to the schools their families select. Public dollars are meant to be spent for the education of a particular student. They are not entitlements for school systems” (Charter Schools in Action p. 152).
Charter School Fact:
The basic mission of any charter school should be to improve student achievement.
A well-crafted mission statement is vital to a new school. It provides founders with an opportunity to articulate their hopes and intentions for their school. This explicit articulation can help keep a school focused on student issues – curriculum and student achievement outcomes – rather than political, or “adult” issues. The mission statement should be highly visible around the school, in its publications and communications, and should influence all of the activities that occur at the school. US Charter Schools explains that,
“Parents, school employees, and students will scrutinize, reference, and utilize the mission statement, especially in the school’s first year. Indeed, most charter schools include a mission statement in their marketing materials and web site. It explains to the rest of the world the intended purpose and standards for the school.”
According to the Illinois Charter School Resource Handbook, “your mission statement must serve the following purposes, among others:
- Inform the public of your school’s purpose and aims;
- Serve as the common motivator and focus for all staff and the entire school community;
- Drive every school program and decision;
- Provide meaningful guidance to the future leaders of your school in making important decisions and resolving conflict; and
- Provide clarity of purpose that will guide and sustain the school over the long term.
“A vague or unfocused ‘mission,’ doing none of these things, is not truly a mission at all. Thus, in crafting the mission statement, charter school planners should avoid fuzzy, all-encompassing pronouncements, as well as the empty use of educational buzzwords and jargon. Sometimes charter developers are tempted to write their mission statement in broad, vague terms, thinking that it will give the school flexibility and leeway in the future and will thus be ‘easier to fulfill’ – or that an all-inclusive declaration is more likely to be approved by application reviewers, since there is ‘something to please everyone.’ Such ideas are seriously misguided and will result in non-mission statements.”
The Pioneer Institute provides another explanation of what purpose a charter school’s mission statement should serve. They advise that a mission statement is critical to giving substance to the dreams of charter school founders. The statement defines the school’s purpose, sets forth specific objectives, and suggests initial strategies for the emerging school community. A mission statement shapes a school’s character, provides a sense of direction and vitality, and is a source of stability through times of difficult decision-making.
A mission statement should provide a specific direction for a school and contain real substance, articulated in clear language, rather than focusing on vague hopes and ambiguous academic terms. A school should constantly be trying to fulfill its mission, and so should not have goals that are ill-defined, or are impossible to measure. The Pioneer Institute and the New York Charter Schools Resource Center suggest five elements that should be included in a mission statement:
- Values: the underlying philosophy of why the founders want to open the school
- Educational Approach: teaching and learning methods and expectations
- Curriculum Focus: general areas of curriculum focus; adopted models; key components that make the school unique
- Customer Focus: what the school uniquely provides to customers – students/parents/the public
- Outcomes and Goals: these should be explicitly stated in the mission statement
Some examples of mission statements from Georgia and around the country follow:
Schools in Georgia:
Central Education Center; Newnan, Georgia
Central Educational Center’s1 function is to provide 1) technical and advanced instruction to students of the three public high schools in Coweta County, 2) a night high school, and 3) adult education classes leading to GED completion.
MISSION: To ensure a viable workforce for the 21st century based on targeted needs within our community
PURPOSE: To develop, implement, and offer innovative learning opportunities for residents of Coweta and surrounding counties to achieve economic and personal goals
GOAL: To create synergy among the educational, business, industrial, and governmental entities that will favorably impact and enhance economic development and the quality of life in this region
WHY? More than 40 percent of Coweta’s business and industry responded to a needs assessment survey which covered 80 percent of the manufacturing and technical jobs in the county. Critical employee concerns included life skills, work ethics, and basic math and reading skills.
Schools in Georgia:
Fulton Science Academy Middle School; Alpharetta, Georgia
The mission of Fulton Science Academy Middle School2 is to execute the instruction of the middle school math-science curriculum with the help of proven successful methods in a stimulating and supporting environment to prepare the entire student body to their maximum potential in these subjects so that on this basis they will get the most out of their high school math-science education, which is the key to future success.
Oglethorpe Academy; Savannah, Georgia
It is the mission of the Oglethorpe Academy3 to provide a safe, nurturing atmosphere in which to guide a diverse student body in the development of character and academic potential through a rigorous, content-rich, hands-on curriculum and ongoing character enrichment that lead to an understanding of virtuous behavior and civic responsibility. High standards of teaching, study, and conduct are central to the mission of Oglethorpe Academy, standards that will lead to academic excellence and strong moral fiber. Parent involvement is critical to Oglethorpe Academy’s mission.
Schools around the country:
Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter School; Franklin, Massachusetts
The Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter School’s4 mission is to assist parents in their role as the primary educators of their children by providing a classical academic education coupled with innovative programs for character building and community service. The Core Knowledge Sequence, recently developed by renowned educator E.D. Hirsch in collaboration with educators throughout the country, provides a carefully planned and thematically integrated curriculum focusing on a body of classical knowledge of proved and lasting significance assumed in public discourse and known by a broad majority of literate Americans.
City on a Hill Charter School; Boston, Massachusetts
The mission of City on a Hill Charter School5 is to graduate responsible, resourceful, and respectful democratic citizens prepared to advance community, culture, and commerce.
El Colegio; Minneapolis, Minnesota
El Colegio’s6 mission is to engage students in profound experiences that help them find meaning and purpose in their lives. The school does this through experiential-based education that uses the Latino, Chicano, and Mexicano cultures as the context for studying the arts, environment, and technology. We provide students the opportunity to succeed academically in all subject areas, as well as take pride in who they are and what they bring to the ongoing creation of the culture and society of the United States.
Frederick Douglass Charter School; Hyde Park, Massachusetts
Frederick Douglass Charter School,7 to be located in Boston, will be a middle and high school offering students from Boston a rigorous college preparatory education with a particular focus on research and public speaking. The mission of the school is to foster pride in academic achievement by requiring public demonstration of work in every subject area. We believe that to explain one’s idea is to own it: students will learn to clarify their ideas through the process of research, writing, revision, and presentation.
Guajome Park Academy; Vista, California
By connecting knowledge, thinking, and experience in an environment where all the world is a classroom, Guajome Park Academy8 is the school of choice for students who are committed to being responsible, thinking, communicating, and contributing citizens.
Liberty Common School; Fort Collins, Colorado
The mission of Liberty Common School9 is to provide excellence and fairness in education through a common foundation. This is achieved by successfully teaching a contextual body of organized knowledge, the values of a democratic society, and the skills of learning. In short, we teach common knowledge, common virtues, and common sense.
Ronald H. Brown Charter School; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Our mission at Ronald H. Brown Charter School10 is to open the portals of opportunity for children and adults in the community through excellence in public education: combining the beneficial rigors of a classical education with the latest technology and the best teaching and learning practices worldwide.
Charter School Fact:
Georgia charter schools must address the Quality Core Curriculum (QCC) standards.
Charter schools provide a unique opportunity to develop and/or implement creative, innovative, and proven educational models to improve students’ achievement and educational experiences. This can be done in many ways, with many different models of instruction and school design. Excellent curriculum standards will “emphasize rigorous academics, yet [be] flexible enough to allow for pedagogical and intellectual diversity.”1
Charter school director and longtime educator Wayne Jennings suggests keeping the following in mind when planning curriculum: “Charter schools have the opportunity, if not the obligation, to create new practices as one of the purposes of the statute. Charter schools can draw from a variety of curriculum models and instructional practices. The charter statute encourages schools to depart from conventional school approaches. There is no need to simply reconstitute the standard school design. Take the time to front-end plan your school carefully. Examine the huge variety of different models of education to create a unique and powerful charter school.”2
Mandated Minimum State Standards
Even though a charter provides academic flexibility, schools are still accountable to the state for their curricula. A charter school’s curriculum must address the state of Georgia Quality Core Curriculum (QCC).
Some things to keep in mind while developing/adopting a school’s curriculum:
- Decide what students need to know by the time they leave school
- Be sure there is continuity and some kind of connection between grades/levels
- Be sure that QCCs/state standards are met
- Evaluate whether the curriculum is working with the objectives of the school
- Allow time for teachers to develop and improve the curriculum
- Be mindful of teacher autonomy and individual styles
- Ask how the students’ experiences might fit with the schools they might come from or go to
- Understand that educational models should follow from a school’s mission statement
- Align the curriculum to measurable standards
Some school founders choose to develop their schools’ educational design and curriculum locally, while others may choose from the many published school and curriculum models. The New York State Charter Schools Resource Center provides the following advice for curriculum design: “A school’s academic curriculum is the vehicle by which its standards for student achievement are reached. As such, a charter school’s curriculum must be designed with a focus on the desired outcomes. For example, if a school’s standard is that all children will be able to read a short story aloud to his or her class by the end of first grade, the curriculum must include reading comprehension, storytelling, and public speaking instruction. If a school’s goal is to ensure that each child is technologically skilled, it may mean that by the end of eighth grade instruction must have occurred in subjects such as computer software/hardware use, electronic communication, and using the Internet for research.
In all cases, a charter school’s curriculum must be designed to achieve its stated goals for student learning – its academic standards – at each grade. Parents, students, and the public often will turn first to a school’s curriculum and learning standards to make decisions about the quality of a school and whether to enroll their child. It is of ultimate importance, therefore, to ensure that statements about the school’s standards and curriculum are clear, thorough, and readily available.”
See Appendix A for a sample locally developed curriculum for a New York K-6 Charter School:
Hispanic Charter Schools
Because the Hispanic population in the United States is growing at a fast rate, and because immigrant children often have unique educational needs, many civic groups are creating charter schools directed toward those specific needs. For example, the National Council of La Raza’s Charter School Development Initiative3 provides grants to develop charter schools with programs that serve the Latino community. Below is a list of several such schools around the country:
Carlos Rosario International Career Center and Public Charter School4; Washington, D.C.
Cesar Chavez Academy5; Pueblo, Colorado
El Colegio Charter School6; Minneapolis, Minnesota
Latino College Preparatory Academy7; San Jose, California
Raul Yzaguirre School for Success8; Houston, Texas
Additionally, some charter schools have developed other unique curricular themes and instructional designs on their own:
Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy9; Washington, D.C.
Charter High School for Architecture and Design10; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Tempe Preparatory Academy11; Tempe, Arizona
Vaughn Next Century Learning Center12; Los Angeles, California
Many school founders may not find it necessary, practical, or desirable to create an entire curriculum for their schools. There are many design models available, and many of them have already developed materials to compose or to supplement a school’s curriculum. Some models are whole-school designs, while others focus on particular subjects. Below are short descriptions of some:
Core Knowledge provides a carefully sequenced curriculum and challenging body of knowledge in which to ground skills instruction.
Council for Basic Education14
The Council for Basic Education (CBE), a national nonprofit organization, advocates high academic standards for all students and exemplary teaching in every classroom in our nation’s public schools.
The Edison Project is a private school management company whose program features longer school days and a standardized curriculum.
Foundational Approaches in Science Teaching16
The Foundational Approaches in Science Teaching (FAST) program is a sequence of three inquiry science courses especially designed for middle-school students. The courses emphasize the foundational concepts and methods of the physical, biological, and earth sciences.
The Great Books program includes a collection of literature based on high-level works and a reading program based on vocabulary building and critical thinking skills.
This design features a rigorous academic curriculum, with emphasis placed on the ideals of international understanding and responsible citizenship.
KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program)19
KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national nonprofit organization which trains school leaders to open and run public schools dedicated to providing educationally underserved students with the knowledge, skills, and character needed to succeed in top-quality high schools, colleges, and the competitive world beyond.
Promotes virtue-based education; advocates and complements the Core Knowledge Sequence.
Advocates exposure to rigorous, content-rich mathematics, and systematic mastery of the fundamental building blocks necessary for success in the subject.
Modern Red Schoolhouse22
This is a whole-school design featuring a traditional curriculum, with a comprehensive view of school restructuring, and use of a sophisticated instructional management system that allows for detailed tracking of student progress and continuous reflection on the curriculum.
This is a schoolwide model, featuring longer days and a prescribed curriculum emphasizing “traditional core subjects and essential skills.”
National Right to Read Foundation24
Advocates phonics reading instruction.
PLATO Learning, Inc. is a leading provider of computer-based and e-learning instruction, offering basic to advanced level courseware in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and life and job skills. The PLATO Learning System and PLATO Web Learning Network provide more than 3,500 hours of objective-based, problem solving courseware and include assessment, alignment, and management tools to create standard-based curricula and facilitate the learning process.
Saxon Publishers, Inc. was founded on the premise that math was not being taught effectively and that it was not the fault of the teachers nor the students, but the textbooks they used. Most textbooks were divided into large chapters that took many days to cover. Saxon divided its textbooks into daily lessons, each containing a small increment of new learning. Every day’s homework, called a problem set, contained problems that encompassed all the previous concepts and skills covered that year.
Other resources are available at the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory’s Catalog of School Reform Models27.
For more model synopses, visit “Navigating New Waters in Public Education: A Handbook on Innovative School Models.” 28 by Susan J. Gillespie.
1. American Academy for Liberal Education
2. Minnesota Charter Schools Resource Center
Charter School Fact:
Georgia charter schools receive between 30 and 90 percent of the money per student that regular public schools receive.
Although charter schools should always be started for educational reasons – to raise student achievement, and/or to provide services not provided by school districts — a charter school’s financial condition is one of the most important factors in its creation, operation, and long-term survival. School organizers must either be proficient in the realms of education and finance, or they must put together a team that can understand and manage both aspects effectively. In part, the Georgia law regarding charter school finances states that:
— One of the factors that may lead to the termination of a charter is a failure to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management. O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2068 (2) (c).
— In addition, charter schools will be subject to an annual financial audit in the manner specified in the charter. O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2065 (7).
A school’s main source of income will be the per-pupil payments it receives from the state and district. Other possible funding sources include public and private grants, federal entitlements, some types of fees, contracting out services, and loans. Georgia law states in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2068.1.
(a) A local charter school shall be included in the allotment of QBE formula earnings, applicable QBE grants, applicable non-QBE state grants, and applicable federal grants to the local school system in which the local charter school is located under Article 6 of this chapter. The local board and the state board shall treat a conversion charter school no less favorably than other local schools located within the applicable local school system unless otherwise provided by law. The local board and the state board shall treat a start-up charter school no less favorably than other local schools within the applicable local system with respect to the provision of funds for instruction and school administration and, where feasible, transportation, food services, and building programs. (b) QBE formula earnings, applicable QBE grants, applicable non-QBE state grants, and applicable federal grants earned by a local charter school shall be distributed to the local charter school by the local board; provided, however, that state equalization grant earnings shall be distributed as provided in subsection (c) of this Code section. The local charter school shall report enrolled students in a manner consistent with Code Section 20-2-160. (c) In addition to the earnings set out in subsection (b) of this Code section local tax revenue shall be earned by a local charter school and calculated as follows: (1) Determine the amount of funds earned by students enrolled in the local charter school as calculated by the Quality Basic Education Formula pursuant to Code Section 20-2-160; (2) Determine the amount of funds earned by all students in the public schools of the local school system, including any charter schools that receive local tax revenue, as calculated by the Quality Basic Education Formula; (3) Divide the amount obtained in paragraph (1) of this subsection by the amount obtained in paragraph (2) of this subsection; and (4) Multiply the quotient obtained in paragraph (3) of this subsection by the school system’s local tax revenue. The product obtained in paragraph (4) of this subsection shall be the amount of local funds to be distributed to the local charter school by the local board; provided, however, that nothing in this subsection shall preclude a charter petitioner and a local board of education from specifying in the charter a greater amount of local funds to be provided by the local board to the local charter school if agreed upon by all parties to the charter. Local funds so earned shall be distributed to the local charter school by the local board. Where feasible and where services are provided, funds for transportation, food service programs, and construction projects shall also be distributed to the local charter school as earned. In all other fiscal matters, including applicable federal allotments, the local board shall treat the local charter school no less favorably than other local schools located within the applicable school system.
(d) QBE formula earnings, applicable QBE grants, applicable non-QBE state grants, and applicable federal grants that are earned by state chartered special schools shall be distributed to the local board of the local school system in which the state chartered special school is located which shall distribute the same amount to the state chartered special school; provided, however, that a state chartered special school shall not be included in the calculation and distribution of the local school system´s equalization grant unless the voters of the local school system have approved the use of local tax revenue to support the state chartered special school in accordance with subsection (e) of this Code section. If such approval has been given, state equalization grant earnings shall be earned for the state chartered special school and shall be distributed as provided in subsection (f) of this Code section. The local board shall not be responsible for the fiscal management, accounting, or oversight of the state chartered special school. The state chartered special school shall report enrolled students in a manner consistent with Code Section 20-2-160. Any data required to be reported by the state chartered special school shall be submitted directly by the school to the appropriate state agency. Where feasible, the state board shall treat a state chartered special school no less favorably than other public schools within the state with respect to the provision of funds for transportation and building programs.”
Predicting the amount of money a school will be allotted is one of the most difficult, yet crucial aspects of a charter school’s operation. There are sixteen funding categories for students in Georgia, and the amounts of funding in each are determined by students’ age, cost to educate, special needs, etc. The Georgia Department of Education provides yearly FTE Guidelines and Documentation1 through the Office of Budget Services. Below is a general FTE overview of funding:
FTE Weight X # of FTEs X Base Amount FY 2002 ($2292.90) = Allotment
Exact payment dates and procedures may vary between school systems. In the Atlanta Public School System, for example schools are required to submit monthly invoices by grade of their actual monthly enrollment. They are then supposed to be paid the actual enrollment amounts based on the FTE program codes. If reports are timely, payments should be made within about 10 to 15 days. An example of a fictitious 105-student Atlanta middle school’s funding process (for an entire year) follows:
Grades 6-8 [FTE Weight] X 105 [# of FTEs] X $2292.90 [Base Amount $2292.90] = $267,574.55 [Allotment] 1.1114000
Most QBE funding will not be available until after the school opens (this does not include money obtained specifically for start-up purposes). Significant expenses are incurred, however, long before the school opens. The Charter Schools Development Center at California State University Sacramento has developed a chart detailing the hypothetical start-up costs of a school2 after its charter has been approved.
Other Sources of Funding:
QBE funding is the main source of a school’s revenue for day-to-day operations. Charter schools, however, as opposed to traditional district schools, have many special projects such as facility acquisition/upkeep, growth of the school, special curricular programs, etc., that they have to pay for, usually with less money than traditional district schools. Therefore, schools may need additional income sources. In a 1999 study, the Center for Washington Area Studies at George Washington University stated:
“There are four outlets that public charter schools potentially can utilize to secure additional financial support. The options are (1) exert pressure on government to raise the funding levels; (2) find ways to supplement regular governmental funding, e.g. through the pursuit of grants, donations and private loans; (3) discover efficiencies that allow them to provide comparable services at a lower cost (e.g., contracting out; economies of scale; new technologies); or (4) reduce costs by sacrificing some of the range or quality of services they initially promised.” Some of these options are discussed below:
There are many state and federal grant programs available for charter schools. Additionally, private organizations, especially ones located in the school’s area, may have an interest in supporting a school’s educational program. The Georgia Department of Education provides a list of funding sources3, which charter school organizers may pursue to secure additional funds.
Federal money is also available if a school serves certain student populations (Title I money for low-income, bilingual, or special ed students, for example). The U.S. Department of Education has published a guidebook entitled “Accessing Federal Funds”4 which details federal funding programs useful specifically to charter schools.
As public schools, charter schools may not charge tuition for attendance, as private schools do. It may be possible, however, to raise additional funds in creative ways, such as charging fees for special activities, athletics, or trips, just as traditional public schools do.
It is important to remember that schools are responsible for services not only at the school building level, but also for support services provided at the district level. These services must either be provided and paid for by the charter school or negotiated with the school district.
Schools may be able to have outside companies, or nearby school districts provide services cheaper than a school would be able to provide itself. Some examples are accounting, custodial, business, and food services. Douglas County Public Schools, in Colorado, for example, “adopted a businesslike approach to its charter schools. The charters were obliged to buy only a few services (such as liability insurance and fiscal audits) from the system; the rest were displayed on a menu with a dozen and a half items priced on a per-student basis, from intra-district mail service for $2.62 per pupil per annum to special education at $355.”5
Because of the nature of charter schools, good loans may be hard to come by. Uncertain futures and no credit history make charter schools appear risky to potential investors, but local banks may be willing to work out some type of arrangement. Another important factor to consider here is the start-up cost involved with a charter school. While accruing some debt to acquire a facility may be unavoidable, it is best to try to avoid deficit spending in the daily operation of a school.
In some cases, it may be possible to rent out space in the school to community groups on nights and weekends when the school will not be in regular use. School property would have to be secured, and possibly parts of the building locked, but this could help maximize the use of the facility and provide an additional source of income.
One of the most difficult factors in starting a school is finding the facility in which to house it. Some start-up money is available to school organizers in Georgia, but not enough for the outright purchase of a building. Therefore, finding the best possible facility demands creativity on the part of the school organizers. Following are some suggestions for finding and acquiring a suitable facility:
Share existing but unused district school space
Often it is possible to find some space that a district no longer uses to house a charter school. This may require some renovation/adaptation to fit the charter school’s purpose, but such a building should already be in compliance with school building codes. Sometimes it may be possible to share space with a private school as well. For example, the Neighborhood Charter School in Atlanta is located in one of Atlanta Public Schools’ oldest buildings, Slaton Elementary School in Grant Park, though the charter school itself must pay for renovations.
Use other vacant municipal or state buildings
Other spaces may exist that could house a school, but these may also need to be altered to meet building code requirements for schools, in addition to other renovations.
Form partnerships with nearby facilities
Nearby recreational facilities, such as pools, or the YMCA, may allow schools to use their facilities during the school day, when they are not very busy. In selecting a site, school organizers should definitely take into consideration any area facilities or organizations they could form partnerships with to provide activities/services/space, and save the school the little money it has.
Form partnerships with local colleges and universities
A school may be able to be housed in unused classrooms at a local college or university. In addition, such institutions have excellent human and material resources to supplement what a school can provide its students itself. The Central Education Center in Newnan, for example, shares space and a program with West Central Technical College.
Another main problem regarding facilities, especially with start-up charter schools, is the fact that neither local, state, nor federal funds can be used for capital funding for buildings. Some companies, for example the NCB Development Corporation6, are willing to work with charter schools in developing facilities. Another resource is SchoolFacilities.com, which provides knowledge and resources to facility professionals and suppliers in the educational facilities industry.
John Dolan of the Pioneer Institute has published a very helpful paper on charter school facilities and finance entitled “Charter School Facility Financing: Constraints and Options”7 which provides detailed information about finding, choosing, and affording suitable spaces for charter schools.
While charter school founders often have their educational ideas firmly in mind, and possess the skills to implement them, the business side of running a charter school is often neglected or misunderstood. In any case, every charter school should hire an accountant/business manager to handle financial issues. The Charter Friends National Network has developed a sample business plan, annual operating budget, and long-term plan to assist charter organizers with this important facet of charter school creation, operation, and survival that may be used as a general guide:
A Basic Business Plan for Charter Schools
The charter school business plan is a management tool. When developed and used properly, it is one of the most effective communication tools used to obtain grants or loans for your charter school, whether they come from traditional lenders or the philanthropic community. It also can assist the school developer(s) in achieving his/her goals by identifying financial needs and/or problems early in the school planning process. The charter school business plan should reflect the school’s developers’ ideas clearly and succinctly and/or could be a component of a larger school-wide strategic plan that addresses the school’s short and long-term plans in more detail.
Before you start developing your business plan you might ask yourself the following questions. Although some of these questions may seem too simple for some, they might be helpful to newer charter school developers. Do not attempt to answer these questions as part of your written Business Plan.
1. Have you worked in a school and/or educational setting similar to the one you want to start?
2. Have you had any business and/or education training in school?
3. Do you know how much money you will need to get the school started?
4. Have you decided on a marketing plan?
5. Have you talked with other school developers/operators about what they think of the school?
6. Can you determine the amount of money you should receive in terms of revenues per student?
7. Have you tried to find out how well schools similar to the one you want to open are doing in your community and in the rest of the country?
8. If you need to hire someone to help you, do you know where to look?
9. Do you know what benefits to provide?
10. Do you have a plan for training your employees?
11. Have you talked with the parents and schools (both public and private) in the area?
12. Have you determined the type of payment you intend to accept for student fees, etc.?
13. Have you talked with an insurance agent about what kind of insurance you need?
14. Do you know what equipment and supplies you will need and how much they will cost?
15. Can you save money by buying secondhand equipment?
16. Have you compared the prices and credit terms of different suppliers?
SAMPLE BUSINESS PLAN OUTLINE
(Suggested length: no more than 3 pages)
NOTE: The following section to the Business Plan is not required as part of your charter school grant application. However, it is encouraged that you develop such a plan for your school. Traditional lenders and others who are requested to support your school over time will be impressed with such a plan.
A. School Description
1. Name and address
2. School description (grade levels, etc.)
3. Mission statement
4. Instructional focus
5. Governance/Administrative structure
a. charter accountability (describe briefly how your school plans to remain viable at renewal)
b. relationship with charter granting agency
II. Market Analysis
A. Description of the area or market/district(s) that the school will serve
B. Target market/student population (what segment of district’s population you plan to serve?)
C. Competition – other school(s) seeking the same student population to include private, public, magnet, parochial, and other charter schools
III. Marketing Strategy
A. Overall strategy (awareness for students and parents)
B. Specific admission and recruiting plans and policies
IV. Management Plan
A. Form of business organization (e.g., for profit or nonprofit corporation)
B. Board of directors (owners, partners, or governing board)
C. Administrator(s): organization chart and responsibilities (if applicable)
D. Resumes of key personnel (omit if included with your application)
E. Staffing plan/number of employees
F. Facility plan/planned capital improvements (omit if included with your application)
G. Operating plan/schedule of work for next year
V. Financial Data
A. The appropriate financial statements described below. Your Business Plan will include at least the Annual Operating Budget and the Three to Five-Year Projections.
B. Explanations of assumptions underlying the budget and projections
C. Explanation of use and impact of new funds (if seeking a loan or grant)
FINANCIAL STATEMENTS TO INCLUDE IN YOUR BUSINESS PLAN
When preparing projected financial statements for your charter school business plan, you must start with basic assumptions for income and expenses. These assumptions for income and expenses should be detailed in your charter school business plan with supporting documentation derived from the market study and the market strategy. The projected financial statements should indicate financial changes in your revenue cycle. For instance, if your school receives fees and funds from the state during a specific time, i.e., quarterly, revenue during that period will be greater. Your financial projections should indicate the fluctuation in income and expenses.
There are four types of financial statements that should be included in your business plan:
1. Annual Operating Budget (required in your business plan)
The annual operating budget will take your income minus expenses and equal either a surplus or a deficit. The budget would show revenues by source (e.g., state aid, federal aid, grants, fees, etc.) and expenditure by object (e.g., salaries, benefits, rent, materials, books, services, professional training, utilities, insurance, etc.) for the first year of operations (or current fiscal year for a preexisting school). Sample Annual Operating Budget8
2. Cash Flow Statement (required with this application unless your annual budget above is broken into monthly columns).
The cash flow statement will show the cash generated and collected by school operations. This statement will utilize the same income and expense as the annual operating budget, but it breaks the information down into monthly or quarterly columns showing whether the school will have enough money to pay its bills at the end of each month or quarter. Naturally, if the school’s annual revenues arrive at the school later than its expenditures must be paid, the school will need “working capital” (e.g., a short-term loan) in order to pay its expenses on time. Sample Monthly Cash Flow Projection9
3. Three to Five-Year Projections of income and expenses — (required in your business plan).
A three or five year projection of anticipated income and expenses will show the planned growth, development, and needs of the school over time. A rule of thumb when forecasting: “be as conservative and as realistic as possible.” Sample Five-Year Projection10
4. For those schools that are independent of their charter sponsor, an Audited Balance Sheet of the most recent year, prepared by an external, certified public accountant (if the school has been open and audited after its first year). Schools that are in the planning stage, or the first year of operations, and do not yet have an annual audit report, should develop a set of financial management policies. These policies would specify who is responsible for preparing and monitoring the school’s budget and how the “powers of the purse” are distributed among board members, staff, and others within their school.
During the budget planning process, it is helpful to perform “what if” analyses to determine the effects of different enrollments. For example, a break-even analysis would determine the lowest enrollment that would still allow the school to be financially viable. In addition to overall student enrollment, variation in the enrollments of different grade levels should also be contemplated.
For a Georgia-specific example, revenue and salary summaries11 for the Neighborhood Charter School, a K-5 charter school in Atlanta, are available online. As the law states, charter schools will be subject to financial audits to ensure proper use of public funds, though schools should make their financial states publicly available on their own. The Florida Charter School Resource Center has developed a financial audit checklist12 for charter schools, to help them be prepared when the time comes for their school’s financial order to be assessed.
5. Charter Schools in Action p,194.
12. www.ari.coedu.usf/fcsrc/pdf_files/Are You Ready For An Audit02.26.pdf
Charter School Fact:
Charter schools in Georgia are required to administer all the same state assessments as traditional public schools.
“The genius of the charter school concept is that it is demanding with respect to results but relaxed about how those results are produced; tight as to ends, loose as to means. Yet success in attaining results can only be found if there are clear standards, good assessments, and consequences for everyone.”1
The main appeals of the charter school movement are the ability to organize a school around a core educational plan and curriculum, to control the local school budget and staff, and to be free from constraining district and state regulations. With this freedom, however, comes a responsibility to ensure that public money is being spent on quality educations for students. Rather than the traditional system of quality control, or what Chester Finn, Bruno Manno, and Gregg Vanourek call “accountability-via-regulation,” or compliance with myriad rules, charter schools have the opportunity and the responsibility to provide what Finn, Manno, and Vanourek call “accountability-via-transparency”
“That means a regimen in which so much is known about each school that its various watchers and constituents (including families, staff, board members, sponsor, the press, and rival schools) can and do routinely ‘regulate’ it through market-style mechanisms rather than command-and-control structures. If flaky people are operating a dubious school with a weird curriculum, classrooms are out of control, money is being squandered (or pocketed by the school head), or test scores are sagging, this will be no secret to its community. Either the school changes its ways or it finds itself without students (or without its charter renewal). Conversely, a school that works well will find people beating a path to its doors.”2
No Child Left Behind
Though charter schools allow for a great deal of local control, they will be held accountable to parents, to their authorizers, and to the federal government. As public schools, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) will have significant effects on charter schools. “Charter Schools and the New Accountability provisions in NCLB,” describes some of these effects specifically:
“…while all public schools, including charter schools, will be subject to the new accountability requirements, NCLB maintains traditional federal deference to state law when it comes to determining exactly how charter schools should be held accountable. The Act provides in Section 1111(b)(2)(K), that:
“The accountability provisions under this Act shall be overseen for charter schools in accordance with State charter school law.
“This clear statement is amplified by report language that deals more directly with the complicated question of charter oversight. Congressional negotiators approved a framework for state and authorizer action reflecting four discrete, but connected, strands of thought about what Congress intends.
“First, the language reinforces the important point that charter schools are encompassed within the Act and subject to its provisions on standards, assessments, reports, “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP), and corrective actions (as indicated by references to the specific sections of the Act) on these points:
“Charter schools are public schools and therefore subject to the same accountability requirements of this Act as they apply to other public schools, including Sections 1111 and 1116, as developed in each state.
“Second, the report directly acknowledges the role of authorizers as the governing bodies directly overseeing charter schools, in effect saying that nothing the Act says about state or LEA authority should supersede the authorizer role:
“However, there is no intent to replace or duplicate the role authorized chartering agencies, as established under each state’s charter school law, in overseeing the Act’s accountability requirements for the charter schools that they authorize.
“Third, the report reminds authorizers that they, too, have important performance obligations under the Act:
“Authorized chartering agencies should be held accountable for carrying out their oversight responsibilities as determined by each state through its charter school law and other applicable state laws.
“Fourth, the paragraph ends on a cautionary note – that in holding authorizers accountable, states should avoid a cookie-cutter approach that would inhibit the very purposes for which charter laws were passed:
“This should be done in ways that do not inhibit or discourage the approval or oversight of innovative, high-quality charter schools.”
Charter schools are accountable to the public for test scores and progress toward the goals laid out in their charters – they must be “transparent.” The Georgia Charter School Act states that, “A charter school shall provide an annual report to parents or guardians, the community, and the state board which indicates the progress made by the charter school in the previous year in implementing its charter goals. A local charter school shall also provide an annual report to the local board.” O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2067.1 (c).
In order for this transparency to be possible and meaningful, schools must set standards and goals for students according to the philosophy laid out in the charter, measure student progress toward those goals, and report their findings publicly. An accountability plan will help make this process more clear, and will lay the groundwork for renewal of the charter. The US Charter Schools website identifies four components for an accountability plan:
- Student performance: Is the academic program a success? Do students demonstrate satisfactory achievement on state or district tests and other measures? Are students making academic gains?
- Goals in the charter: Is the school faithful to the terms of its contract, including its mission, goals, and objectives?
- Operations: Is the school a viable, well-managed organization? Is it responsibly using public funds? Is it in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations (such as public health and civil rights) not waived for charter schools?
- Continuous improvement: Does the school recognize clearly where growth is most essential, and is the total program committed to discovering areas for self-improvement?
It is important to set standards for students as individuals and the school as a whole. Besides following the Georgia QCCs, a school should have its own explicit academic accountability system.
Generally, an academic accountability system requires three parts: (1) setting measurable standards and goals, (2) assessing and monitoring progress towards those goals, and (3) using the data to identify strengths to be improved upon and weaknesses to be corrected.3
The Massachusetts Charter School Resource Center offers the following process to assist charter school founders, planners, and community groups as they create an assessment system:
- Create realistic, measurable, and publicly known student standards for the school.
- Develop a sequenced curriculum that is aligned to the school’s standards.
- Select and align appropriate measurement tools—external and internal—and benchmarks for the standards.
- Develop an internal data management system to provide staff with information for curricular and instructional decision-making.
- Develop a communication system for informing and educating the entire school community about the school standards, curriculum, and performance measurement.
Additionally, the Charter Schools Development Center offers suggestions in designing standards, aligning them to the curriculum, and measuring them for success. They advise that the outcomes should be relatively few in number, between five to ten, in order to provide a focused set of targets for learning. Ideally, the outcomes will call for critical thinking and actual application of learning, and combine traditional academic outcomes with communication and lifelong learning competencies. Clear outcomes will allow for evaluation and reporting based on whether or not students can successfully demonstrate significant learning results; not on the activities, assignments, attendance, and aptitudes that lead up to them.
No standardized test can give a complete picture of a school or of an individual student – tests are not perfect measures. They are, however, powerful indicators of a school’s progress and can be useful tools in the process of school evaluations. According to the Charter Schools Development Center, assessments are sources of data. The options include multiple choice tests, essays, portfolios of work samples, exhibitions, projects, and actual performances, as well as data sources such as attendance records and community service logs. Each data source has utility for a specific purpose. While it is increasingly evident that the old, standardized, norm-referenced test provides an incomplete and even inaccurate measure of student progress, moving to performance tests or portfolios alone is not the answer. No one assessment tool is perfect; some may even be simply trendy. Given the research on various styles of learning, an argument can be made that the most effective system of assessments will depend on multiple data sources, matched to complete tasks.
Most charter schools intend to use portfolios or performances in some form, but their charters reveal little evidence of the depth of their understanding of these assessment techniques. Portfolios are useful to provide a picture of a student’s work overtime, particularly written or visual work; performances are useful for demonstrations involving oral presentations and problem-solving situations. A mix of tools rounds out the picture of the achievement of the student. By utilizing a variety of assessment instruments and data sources, schools increase the likelihood of gaining accurate information for a particular student and, therefore painting a defensible picture of student, and school performance.
Georgia charter schools are required to administer the same state-mandated assessments as other public schools. Regarding such testing, the law states, “A charter school must participate in the state mandated accountability assessment program as required in O.C.G.A. § 20-14-30 through 41 and specifically described in O.C.G.A § 20-2-281.” O.C.G.A. § 160-4-9-.04 (5) (c).”
While the interpretation of the initial results should be fair, taking into account the short history of many charter schools and the fact that many target low-achieving students specifically, charter schools’ student achievement gains (or losses) will be measured, and the schools will be held accountable for their results. This is a safeguard, but it is also an opportunity for charter schools to prove their value and educational integrity. Regarding student performance and measurement, Georgia law states, “The State Board of Education shall promulgate rules, regulations, policies, and procedures to govern the contents of a charter petition, provided that the following shall be required at a minimum:
- The state board shall require that a petition designate the performance to be improved and how it will be improved through the waiver of specifically identified state and local rules, regulations, policies, and procedures, or provisions of this title other than the provisions of this article;
- The state board shall require that a petition describe how it will measure the improvement in such performance and over what period of time, provided that suchrequirement shall not waive the accountability provisions of Part 3 of Article 2 of Chapter 14 of this title; and
- The state board shall require that a petition demonstrate how any such waiver does not undermine and is consistent with the intent of the waived state and local rules, regulations, policies, and procedures, or the provisions of this title.” O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2063.
Data collection will be necessary to accurately assess a school’s performance and improvement, and to be sure that standards are correctly aligned to the curriculum, so additional studies may be useful. Some examples of assessment tools include:
- External tests (for example, Stanford Achievement Tests, Metropolitan Achievement Tests, California Achievement Tests, Iowa Test of Basic Skills) have been created by an outside group and are not specifically designed for the curriculum. Such tests are commonly administered to large numbers of students across the state or country. They are useful in evaluating mastery of core skills, tracking performance over time, and providing a larger context by which to evaluate students and school performance.
- Internal tools are often designed by teachers and closely tied to the individual school’s standards and curriculum. They include such options as portfolios, juried assessments/exhibitions, and diagnostic tests.
Schools should utilize both external and internal assessments, and should try to make internal assessment tools as rigorous, valid, and reliable as external test.4
Each charter school will be, by design, unique, and different in some ways from traditional public schools, but they are all still accountable for results and will ultimately be judged facing higher stakes than traditional public schools (i.e., possible revocation of their charter). Therefore, “It is important to note that the accountability responsibilities of charter schools do not end with drafting the charter proposal. After the charter is approved and the school is open, charter school operators should continually amass school performance data, adding this information to their file and presenting interim reports (i.e., annual reports) to their [authorizer, the school community, funders, the media and the general public]. Then, when facing renewal or otherwise undergoing scrutiny, there will be no need to scramble for evidence of school performance nor create an accountability document from scratch.
” Many charter school educators believe that exclusive reliance on standardized test results in an accountability plan offers a constricted view of student and school performance, and fails to describe the ambitious range of learning goals that charter schools commonly set for their students. Schools that do not wish to be judged solely on the basis of standardized test scores, however, must develop additional, concrete learning standards and valid ways of measuring and demonstrating student performance against these standards.”5
Under the law, charter schools in Georgia are subject to annual financial audits just as traditional public schools are. According to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2065 (7), a charter school will be “subject to an annual financial audit in the manner specified in the charter.” Schools’ financial reports should be made available to the public. Parents, government entities, and the community all have a right to know how public money is being spent, and financial transparency provides charter schools with yet another opportunity to prove their integrity.
A charter school may apply for accreditation with any organization its leaders choose. The state does not administer accreditation. Following are links to some accreditation agencies:
- American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE)6 (202) 452-8611
- Georgia Accrediting Commission, Inc. (GAC)7 (706) 353-7090
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)8 (404) 679-4500
In 1999, the Colorado League of Charter Schools developed a year-by-year Accountability Plan to guide schools from drafting their proposals through charter renewal after five years. The report gives a timeline and outlines ways to set initial goals, collect data, respond to deficiencies, and report findings to the public, and can be viewed online9.
Massachusetts’ Pioneer Institute has published the Charter School Accountability Action Guide10, a handbook which provides instructions for setting up and implementing an accountability plan.
True accountability is one of the key differences between charter schools and traditional public schools, and is vital to the integrity of the charter school movement in Georgia and across the nation. “Compromises on accountability and public openness should not be tolerated.”11
1. Charter Schools in Action, p. 71
2. Charter Schools in Action, p. 128
4. Pioneer Institute
5. Illinois Charter School Resource Handbook
Charter School Fact:
Georgia charter schools must have a board of directors to oversee policy decisions.
Boards of Directors
Generally, there will be three boards involved with a charter school:
- The local school board, to which the school’s board and the school itself are accountable
- The nonprofit entity that applies for, receives, and holds the charter
- A policy-making board that governs the school’s operations
The governing/policy-making board may be partially made up of the school’s founding group, but it is a separate group from the nonprofit entity that actually holds the charter.
The members of a charter school’s policy-making board of directors are the primary stewards of the school, both for educational and financial purposes. According to several charter school resource centers around the nation, some general responsibilities of a board of directors may include (but are not limited to):
- Defining, ratifying, and promoting the school’s mission statement. Authorize curricular guidelines or specific programs, or delegate such authority, and evaluate the organization’s overall effectiveness.
- Setting school policies. Approve any management, operational, and service contracts, and set personnel policies, including: establishing qualification criteria for employees, forming dismissal procedures, approving codes of conduct, and authorizing and approving collective negotiations.
- Planning and financial oversight. Review and approve the organization’s programs annually and engage in longer-range planning to establish the school’s general direction for the future (and possible changes in that direction); establish fiscal policies and boundaries; approve the budget; exercise financial control; review and approve major commitments of funds.
- Fundraising. Ensure that the school has adequate funds to meet its commitments, oversee fundraising committees, and approve an annual fundraising plan.
- Hire and supervise the administration. Hire and supervise (and fire, if necessary) the chief executive/school director/principal.
- Community relations. Represent the school to the larger community; develop and maintain a relationship and communications with the public to promote the work of the school; hear complaints from any individual or group alleging any violation of the Charter Schools Act, the charter itself, or any other provision of law relating to the management or operation of the charter school.
The Charter Friends National Network gives the following models as examples of ways to structure a charter school board:
1. School committee or council composed of parents, teachers, administrators, and others.
This model draws inspiration from school shared decision-making structures and site-based management councils that have operated in various forms in traditional district public schools. According to Gruber, this model may be among the most democratic and representative as it is inclusive and fully representational, and delegates management and oversight to one or more of its members. Those in charge having a clear understanding of procedural matters and full inclusion in the decision-making process is essential for this model’s effectiveness. Shared leadership with a division of labor according to talent and expertise is seen as the best way to serve the needs of students, families, and the community as a whole. The committee or council meetings are usually open to the community, and anyone is welcome to attend. This spirit of openness and inclusion are guiding principles in this form of governance, and in many cases decisions are reached through consensus rather than taking a formal vote. Members may be elected and/or appointed by various groups (teachers, parents, administrators, school district officials, union representatives, and others) and serve at the pleasure of those constituents. They may have defined or rotating terms of service so that others may participate in the governing process. Among the criteria for membership is the desire to implement the mission of the school and the commitment to be actively involved in the decision-making process that bears responsibility for the success of the program.
2. A board of directors with a structure of officers, by-laws, and delegation of management to a principal, chief administrator/director or head of school.
This model draws inspiration from the approach to board governance traditionally found in nonprofit organizations. In this model, there is a clear distinction made between the governance work of the board of directors and the administrative/management work of the paid staff.
In this model, the charter school is a legally incorporated entity governed by state statutes and IRS regulations governing nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations. The board of directors is responsible for governing the school. The Trustees each have a personal fiduciary duty to look out for the long-term well-being of the school. The Board is responsible for addressing major matters including: setting the school’s general policies and overall curriculum policies; approving and monitoring the annual budget and financial procedures; fund-raising; hiring and evaluating the school’s principal; approving personnel policies and monitoring their implementation by the principal; assuring that the charter school fulfills its charter contract; and, strategic planning.
The board is composed of a broad cross-section of the school community and community-at-large, in addition to professionals and community leaders. In some charter schools, the board will also include the principal, representatives of teaching staff, students, and parent leadership. The board generally meets as a whole on a monthly basis. It operates through various committees, including an executive committee consisting of officers elected to manage the board and help monitor school policies.
The board is not involved in handling the day-to-day details of running the school, dealing with specific personnel issues, or addressing individual student needs. Consistent with the best practices of nonprofit corporation management, the board delegates the responsibility for running the charter school and implementing the board’s policies to a principal or charter school administrator. Where appropriate, the charter school administrator will delegate some responsibility to other administrators, teachers and students.
3. Owner/Operator, either nonprofit foundation or for-profit, with or without a board or committee.
In some cases, in this model, an advisory committee functions to provide information and support, or a board of directors of the corporation or foundation serve in that capacity. Often a larger holding group or company may operate several schools in different locations but still depend upon a local group for advice and guidance. However, decisions rest with the chief executive officer, who is the one responsible for the operation of the school. This individual is hired with a job description that outlines areas and lines of responsibility and accountability. This model follows a more structured chain of command that is akin to a business/corporate model of organization. The flow of responsibility follows a chart in which responsibilities are assigned or delegated to specific departments. The managers or directors of those divisions are accountable for what happens within their respective department or division.
The full text of the Charter Friends National Network’s Creating an Effective Charter School Governing Board Guidebook1 is available online.
In developing a governance structure for a school, the Illinois Charter School Resource Handbook suggests that
“By planning ahead, you can help ensure an effective and healthy governance structure for your school, which should focus on students’ needs and interests, rather than on adults’ divergent agendas and interpersonal conflicts. Following are some ideas for how to do so:
1. Clear articulation and constant reiteration of the school’s mission statement will reinforce the school community’s common vision, and thus minimize disagreements regarding the school’s direction. However, above and beyond the mission statement, the charter proposal should include carefully designed governance processes and structures aligned with the school’s legal, operational, and organizational systems.
2. Consult with experienced school developers or consultants to:
- Establish comprehensive bylaws for governing body
- Determine and articulate how policy and administrative decisions will be made and implemented
- Establish clear and agreed-upon processes to govern and guide board selection, training, and ongoing development; board/school communications and decision-making; and the respective roles and responsibilities of board members and the school principal or director
- Define the roles of staff, parents, and community
Suggestions for choosing and recruiting board members:
- An effective board of directors is built upon a number of key practices. The first is a thoughtful nominations and recruitment process that is viewed as part of a broader effort to identify, involve, and develop board leadership. The second is the presence of an executive committee that facilitates effective decision-making on the part of a board as a whole. The third practice is establishment of a committee structure. The fourth is a process for periodic evaluation of board performance. These processes and structures reinforce each other and lay the groundwork for board effectiveness.2
- A charter school board of directors can have as many or as few members as its founders feel is appropriate and necessary to provide proper oversight and guidance. While it may be important to have representatives for each stakeholder in the school (educators, parents, school administrators, financial backers, founders, community leaders, etc.) on the board, the board shouldn’t be so large that decisions on policy are unmanageably divisive and constantly hard to reach.3
- Carefully consider membership of the board. Look for a range of personal and professional skills and potential contributions from board members, and expand slowly. (Many groups begin with the founders as the board and gradually add new members).4
- It is critical that your school be served by a board of directors who bring a wide range of knowledge and experience, including educational, financial, legal, management, fundraising, and political expertise. Avoid constructing boards that lack experience or are composed entirely of school “insiders” (e.g., staff and parents) or the opposite extreme, only “outsiders.”5
Though much of it is delegated, the board is ultimately responsible for and has authority over decisions made regarding the charter school. Additionally, the board may only meet for a few hours a month, which means the time for making vital decisions that concern the school is limited. Therefore, effective and efficient decision-making practices and procedures are essential for a charter school’s success. US Charter Schools suggests some strategies to aid in this process:
- Form an executive committee to plan meeting agendas, make decisions on behalf of the full board, and serve as a communication link with the full board.
- Effectively delegate to committees and the school director/principal to allow the board to focus on major policy decisions.
- Create a decision-making flowchart and clear bylaws outlining exactly who is responsible for what.
- Create an annual calendar of major board decisions so the board can maintain focus on important issues in a timely fashion.
US Charter Schools also provides a list of general governing board resources2 for building the board foundation, identifying, recruiting, orienting, and training board members, and board member motivation, accountability, and assessment.
Conflicts of Interest
School honesty and integrity are important both to individual charter schools, and to the charter school movement as a whole. Regarding conflicts of interest, the law states that charter schools will be:
“Subject to all federal, state, and local rules, regulations, court orders, and statutes relating to civil rights; insurance; the protection of the physical health and safety of school students, employees, and visitors; conflicting interest transactions; and the prevention of unlawful conduct” O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2065 (5).
Maintaining a high level of ethics in the overall governance of a school will help refute arguments that charter school leaders take advantage of their freedoms and so need more oversight and regulation. An important aspect of this endeavor is avoiding conflicts of interest, about which the Illinois Charter School Resource Handbook gives the following advice:
“In establishing your governance structure and executing your school plans, you must scrupulously avoid conflicts of interest. This responsibility is the essence of integrity and public accountability in a nonprofit organization and public enterprise. Thus, board members should not have any financial interest in the school or profit financially from its operations, either directly or indirectly. If situations arise where this cannot be avoided, board members must abstain from voting on issues in which they may have an economic interest. Similarly, the requirements of checks and balances and adequate fiscal controls prohibit board members from performing certain functions or services for the school, such as accounting and bookkeeping.
“Some charter schools may choose an unconventional governance structure in which certain staff members also serve on the board of directors. Conflicts of interest can occur very easily in these situations, so if you are planning such an arrangement, you will have to devote scrupulous attention and care to avoid them, through written policy as well as actual practice. Also note that in order to obtain tax-exempt status, your school must have at least three board members who are not drawing a salary from the school. As a simple example, staff who are serving on their governing boards should not vote on issues relating to their own compensation. Likewise, the board of directors must have the authority to remove the school director or principal for cause, regardless of whether that person also sits on the board.”
Charter schools have the unique opportunity in public education to produce results, however they are accomplished, rather than to simply comply with lists of procedures. Unlike traditional public schools, they will rise or fall based on these results. Unfortunately, “government often follows the opposite formula: it is rigid about how things get done but laid back as to whether the desired results are produced. It is more concerned with procedures than outcomes. Its institutions last forever.”7 In order for a charter school to function effectively, its founders and operators must set up some kind of management/administrative structure. This is an opportunity for a school to rework the management aspect of education to fit its mission and philosophy, and to serve students in a more effective fashion than traditional public schools do.
According to the Illinois Charter School Resource Handbook, a management structure that is common to many successful organizations includes three or four people at the top, such as along the following lines:
Business/Controller * Program * Operations or Director/Executive
Business/Controller * Program * Operations * Fundraising
The Pioneer Institute also provides descriptions of four types of organizational structures as examples:
School A: A principal serves as the instructional leader of the school. She is in each class at least briefly each day. Most of her time is spent with faculty on curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. A full-time director of operations manages the school; a director of development works closely with the principal and the board of trustees to develop strategies to support the school’s strategic plan. For specific curricular issues, the school hires an education consultant to address specific areas with teachers. The school uses education experts just as it uses lawyers or accountants-for defined projects of limited duration.
School B: An executive director manages the school, works closely with the board of trustees and with the external communities in which the school operates. Her work includes fundraising as well as making visible to the public the mission of the school and its academic progress. A curriculum expert works closely with the teaching staff on the school’s curriculum, the pedagogy in each classroom, the development of school standards, and the use of assessment data to inform instruction. A business manager performs payroll and related budgetary functions.
School C: A rapidly growing school has outgrown its initial administrative structure, and now the principal of the school has asked classroom teachers to take on leadership roles with grade clusters (K-3, 4-6, etc.). She meets with these lead teachers but much of her time is focused on the big-picture tasks of strategic planning and the acquisition of resources and personnel for school programs. She is often asked to speak about charter schools in public forums. Budgetary responsibilities such as payroll are contracted out to a separate business organization.
School D: The school is one program within a large social service organization. The executive director of the agency, the principal, two lead teachers, a business manager, parent coordinator, and the development director make up the school’s leadership team. The executive director deals with fundraising and the general public; the principal and her staff work closely with the teachers and the parents. The executive director and the principal work together with the board.
Above all, the goal of both the Board and the school administration, whatever their makeup, should be to maintain the school’s focus on student achievement:“Revisit the school’s mission often. The mission serves decision making. The goal of student achievement remains constant; the strategies used to achieve that goal may change.”8
2. Charter Friends National Network
3. New York Charter Schools Resource Center
4. Pioneer Institute
5. Illinois Charter School Resource Handbook
6. Charter Schools in Action, p. 68
8. Pioneer Institute
Charter School Fact:
Georgia charter schools must not charge tuition, require certain test scores or other application criteria, or otherwise discriminate concerning admissions. In case demand exceeds the enrollment capacity of a school, the school must conduct a lottery to determine who will be admitted.
Charter schools are public schools, and may not “discriminate on any basis that would be illegal if used by a school system. [O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2066 (c)]. Concerning student admissions to charter schools, Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2066) states:
A local charter school shall enroll students in the following manner:
- A local charter school shall enroll any student who resides in the school system in which the local charter school is located and who submits a timely application as specified in the charter unless the number of applications exceeds the capacity of a program, class, grade level, or building. In such case, all such applicants shall have an equal chance of being admitted through a random selection process unless otherwise prohibited by law; provided, however, that a local charter school shall give enrollment preference to such students who reside in the attendance zone specified in the charter and may give enrollment preference to a sibling of a resident student currently enrolled in the local charter school.
- A student who resides outside the school system in which the local charter school is located may not enroll in that local charter school except pursuant to a contractual agreement between the local boards of the school system in which the student resides and the school system in which the local charter school is located. Unless otherwise provided in such contractual agreement, a local charter school may give enrollment preference to a sibling of a nonresident student currently enrolled in the local charter school.
- A state chartered special school shall enroll any student who resides in the attendance zone specified in the charter and who submits a timely application as specified in the charter unless the number of applications exceeds the capacity of a program, class, grade level, or building. The period of time during which an application for enrollment may be submitted shall be specified in the charter. In such case, all such applicants shall have an equal chance of being admitted through a random selection process unless otherwise prohibited by law; provided, however, that a state chartered special school may give enrollment preference to a child of a full-time teacher, professional, or other employee of the state chartered special school as provided for in subsection(b) of Code Section 20-2-293 or to a sibling of a student currently enrolled in the state chartered special school.
- A charter school shall not discriminate on any basis that would be illegal if used by a school system.
- A student may withdraw without penalty from a charter school at any time and enroll in a local school in the school system in which such student resides as may be provided for by the policies of the local board. A student who is suspended or expelled from a charter school as a result of a disciplinary action taken by a charter school shall be entitled to enroll in a local school within the local school system in which the student resides, if, under the disciplinary policy of the local school system, such student would not have been subject to suspension or expulsion for the conduct which gave rise to the suspension or expulsion. In such instances, the local board shall not be required to independently verify the nature or occurrence of the applicable conduct or any evidence relating thereto.”
- The admission and enrollment process should, as always with charter schools, be open, fair, and transparent. In case demand exceeds the numbers of available spaces at a school, and a lottery must be conducted, the Illinois Charter School Resource Handbook recommends that schools “conduct a well-publicized, public lottery. Schools may wish to have public officials present to supervise or attest to the fairness of the lottery, or to have an outside firm (such as an accounting or auditing firm) conduct the lottery. Applicants who are not admitted should be placed on a waiting list in the order in which they were selected in the lottery.”
A common charge against charter schools is that they do not serve students with disabilities adequately. Because charter schools are public schools, open to all students, they are still responsible for addressing students with special needs. Some schools, such as the Metro Deaf Charter School1 in Minnesota, cater specifically to students with certain disabilities. Most, however, must address the same issues as traditional public schools, with less personnel and resources. The Pioneer Institute suggests, “Parents and children who choose a charter school are choosing a unique program that is explicitly described in the school’s charter. All parents, and especially those with a special needs child, should be encouraged to examine a school’s curriculum and program very carefully before choosing to apply. A parent may wish to consider the possibility that the program could replace his or her child’s current Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) (a specific written educational plan that must be developed for each special needs student). Parents of a special needs student, however, are not required to give up or modify their child’s IEP as a condition for admission to a charter school.”
The Georgia Department of Education provides a sample IEP form2, as well as questions and answers about IEPs.3
To avoid any misunderstandings and to ensure that a charter school will be able to fulfill its mission to all students, it is important that both charter-granting agencies and school founders “make sure before issuing [or receiving] a charter that the school has addressed this issue in a reasonable way – it has the staff it needs to do what it says it will do and no one is denied admission because of a disability. That does not mean that every charter school must accommodate every need of every disabled child. Regular public schools don’t do that either; they may well send a youngster with particular disabilities to a school across town that is better suited to that child’s needs.”4 This does not mean that schools should counsel special education students out, but that they should keep several things in mind while still in the planning stages (see chart on next page).
Following are special ed resources from the U.S. Department of Education’s website:
- Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability5
- Office of Special Education & Rehabilitative Services6
- Organizations that can help7
- Special Education & Rehabilitative Services9
The following is a list of strategies for building strong relationships with the families of students in charter schools and with the surrounding community, and has been compiled from suggestions in the Illinois and Massachusetts Charter School Resource Handbooks, the New York and Minnesota Charter School Resource Centers, and US Charter Schools:
Opportunities for Families at School – Schools can:
Create opportunities for volunteering (in the library, games night, fundraisers, field trips, lunch assistance).
Identify particular skills or knowledge that individuals can share with particular classes.
Consider how to include the history of families, the neighborhood, and local community in the school curriculum.
Establish a variety of ways to gather the thoughts and opinions of families on new or changed school policy.
Plan student performances well in advance and give families lots of notice so they can attend.
Invite families to hear outside speakers or to attend other special programs for students.
Hold a family orientation each year prior to the opening of school.
Seek to involve families in the design and start-up phases, learning about their needs and expectations.
Parents/family members can:
Share information with a student or class about a hobby or career.
Share information with students about a country you have visited or lived in.
Help coach an athletic team.
Help build something (such as a loft in a classroom, playground, outdoor garden, or other project to beautify the outside of the school).
Help coach students competing in an academic competition (such as Odyssey of the Mind, Future Problem Solving, Math Masters, etc.).
Opportunities Around the Community
Parents/family members can:
Help set up an internship or apprenticeship or community service opportunity for a student at your business, organization, or agency.
Host a one-day “shadow study” for one or a small group of students about your career.
Contact a particular local business or organization regarding a possible partnership with the school.
Provide families with a clear description of school rules and expectations; create a Family Handbook.
Take photos of students at work in school and send them home as postcards.
Publish school calendars, notices of events and activities, etc., well in advance of the activities.
Create a one-page listing of school staff for families to call regarding specific issues.
Advocate for the School
Parents/family members can:
Write a letter to legislators about the school.
Write a letter to school board members and a local newspaper about the school.
Advocate for the school at a district school board meeting.
Help translate information about the school into a language other than English.
Write an article for publication in a magazine or newspaper about the school’s activities.
Help write a proposal that would bring new resources to the school.
Donate materials or services to the school.
Arrange for a business or other organization to donate materials to the school.
No student is ever forced to attend a charter school, and any student can return to a district school at any time without penalty. Schools, then, must find and recruit their own student populations, and then provide quality services that will persuade them to stay. While a group of school founders may have an excellent educational plan for a charter school, they must first find the students to fill the seats. The New York Charter Schools Resource Center suggests that “Charter school applicants should develop as part of their overall application a comprehensive marketing plan that is designed to evaluate the demand for and promote their school to area parents and students, and includes plans on how best to market their plans to charter school sponsors, the media, local community groups, and civic leaders. Goals – such as informing as many people as possible about the school, achieving certain rates of inquiry for more information about the school, etc. – should be specifically stated and should become a foundation of the plan.”
The NYCSRC also lists three questions charter organizers should ask themselves in determining their target markets:
1. “What types of parents and students will be attracted to our school?”
2. “What chartering entity will we seek approval from (local or state)?”
3. “What businesses, community groups, and civic leaders should be sought for support?”
In a sense, a charter school will have to be “sold” to all of these groups: parents and students to populate it, a chartering entity to approve it, and community groups and individuals to support it. After determining whom to target, schools should then decide in what ways they will approach these groups. Some media include:
- Print media/radio/television advertising
- Phone banks
- Public announcements
Following are some suggestions from the Illinois Charter School Resource Handbook and the Minnesota Charter School Resource Center on charter school marketing strategies:
Develop and widely distribute marketing materials and events that explain the goals and mission of the school and provide prospective students and families with more information about how to enroll their children.
Use neighborhood schools and community organizations-social service agencies, churches, youth-serving agencies, etc-as resources in recruiting students.
Use community media-local newspapers and free public service announcements (PSAs) on local radio to publicize your school.
Set up a committee to coordinate community outreach and marketing efforts.
Designate a contact person (director, board member, or other supporter) to respond to media and other official inquiries. This person should be widely familiar with the school at all levels and savvy to media and other public-relations concerns.
Reach out to a broad cross-section of the population.
Build a list of media contacts and develop a positive rapport with each one.
Create materials to “get the word out” about your school, using clippings, posters, flyers, brochures, newsletters, and an Internet web site, if possible. Provide positive, clear, accurate messages about your school.
Establish and publicize mechanisms to facilitate and respond to questions, concerns, and suggestions from the community.
Schedule meetings during convenient times and provide refreshments, childcare help, and language translation where needed, to make people feel comfortable and welcome.
Remember to recognize those who have helped or supported your school in any way.
Contact social workers, probation officers, welfare officials, and people in similar occupations, and give them information that they in turn can give to families with whom they work.
Join your local chamber of commerce, and/or attend meetings of a local business association in order to build ties to the business community.
Contact real estate agents so they will have information on your school to give to potential home-buyers who are often interested in area schools.
Seek attention in the local media. This can include calling and sending information on your program to newspapers and radio and TV stations serving your target area. A new school starting up is likely to be considered noteworthy enough to merit some attention. When interviewed by the local press, it’s best to avoid negative comments, i.e., don’t bash the existing school system. Clearly state your purposes in starting the new school and how your program will help children learn.
Encourage current parents and older students to spread the word about your school. A good word from a neighbor or friend will mean more to a parent than any message coming directly from the school.
In Charter Schools in Action, the authors provide a fictional example of a city and state with a large and vibrant network of charter schools. As a part of this system, they describe a large “school fair,” conducted several times a year, where parents can come and meet representatives from many schools face-to-face, and so get information to help them in making the best decisions for their children. In reality, several nearby charter schools could get together to conduct a similar “school fair” (and even invite regular district schools to send representatives), advertising the event to the general public. This would raise the public’s awareness about the charter schools in general, give individual schools a forum to showcase their programs and their successes, and provide more students with the opportunity to apply to different schools.
Local District Relations
Another group with which any charter school should maintain positive relations is the local school district. Even though in Georgia a charter may be granted without the approval of the local district, maintaining a positive relationship with the district will benefit the charter school. The Illinois Charter School Resource Handbook uses Chicago as an example:
Although the Chicago Public Schools has demonstrated substantial support for the city’s charter schools, recent media coverage has featured a degree of resistance and competition between charter applicants and local school districts in other areas of the State. Since the amendment to Illinois’ charter law allowing for applicants to appeal district rejection of their charter to the State Board of Education, local district support is no longer required for charter approval. Nonetheless, a positive relationship with the local school district is greatly desirable and beneficial for a charter school, and charter applicants would be wise to seek out district support from the beginning of their planning process. Whether or not the district authorizes your school’s charter, your school can benefit from a positive relationship with the district – in, for example, searching for school space, obtaining needed information, and coordinating critical services such as special education, transportation, and food service.
Here are some ideas about how to turn this potential antagonism into a productive and mutually beneficial relationship throughout the charter development process;
1. Meet with the local superintendent (where possible) and/or top district staff before you start. Seek out ways to work collaboratively with the district, complement/supplement programs that the district offers, and share or contract for services. Also, consider and discuss how the charter school could pool professional resources and knowledge with district teachers.
2. Do not criticize the district publicly. Focus on the positive aspects of your charter, not the negative aspects of the local district or its schools. The message to stress is this: Charter schools are not “better than” district schools – they simply provide new educational options for students and the community. They represent another way of providing public education, and while the district does not manage these schools directly, charter schools are strictly accountable to the public for delivering quality services. The district and the public at-large should thus view and treat charter schools as a valuable addition to the district’s overall school-reform strategies.
3. Maintain open, courteous lines of communication.
4. Provide clear, accurate information to the local board and superintendent about charter schools in general and your proposal in particular.
5. Attend school board meetings, show sensitivity to the district’s perspective and needs, and respond to questions and concerns as they arise.
Charter schools are public schools, but unlike traditional public schools, they are schools of choice, accountable to and dependent on several constituencies for their creation, survival, and improvement. All of these groups – students, parents, the community, and the local and state governments – can be of help to a school’s continued success, and should be valued and sought out accordingly.
4. Charter Schools in Action,p., 159