What Should a Charter School Application Look Like?
In 2012, the Missouri Board of Education closed six Imagine charter schools. The Imagine network is one of the largest in the country, and at one point, it provided schooling for one-third of the charter school students in Saint Louis.
Closing these underperforming schools may not have been a bad thing, but it certainly put a bad taste in the mouths of those already fearful of the independent nature of charters. For some, Imagine’s failure justifies a long and arduous charter school application process.
While it’s true that some elements of charter school applications may keep out those who have no business educating children, a new study found that other requirements may simply create unnecessary barriers. In “The Paperwork Pile-Up: Measuring the Burden of Charter School Applications,” AEI’s Mike McShane (who will be joining the Show-Me Institute policy team in August), Jenn Hatfield, and Elizabeth English analyzed the sometimes-overwhelming elements of the charter school application process.
After coding requirements in applications from 40 charter authorizers, they found that authorizers could cut down the average application by at least one-third without interfering with their ability to ensure quality.
Charter school authorizers need to refocus their efforts on the regulations that are most likely to ensure quality schooling and do away with extraneous requirements that have piled up over time. Charter school applications can and should be streamlined to help authorizers focus on what they can do well and save applicants hundreds of hours of work.
In Missouri, both school districts and colleges can sponsor charters. Applicants must submit their application materials to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) by Oct. 1 prior to the fall opening of the school year. DESE provides a 40-page model application for sponsors based on statutory references. The application has a minimum of 23 educational, organizational, and business requirements.
“The Paperwork Pile-Up” lists common requirements for charter school applications, dividing them into three categories—green, yellow, and red. Here are a few examples from the DESE model application and statute requirements.
Green: Requirements are both appropriate and manageable.
- Present a compelling 1-2 sentence mission statement that defines the purpose of the school.
- Present proper documentation that the entity proposing to hold the charter is a Missouri nonprofit corporation.
Yellow: Requirements may be appropriate but onerous, or inappropriate but manageable.
- Annual calendar for the first year of operation.
- Include a sample lesson for a single core subject (of your choice), from two different grade levels that illustrate strategies for implementation of the curriculum consistent with the mission and education philosophy.
Red: Requirements are both inappropriate and onerous.
- Present a thorough, realistic, and cost-effective transportation plan; and provide specific evidence of third-party readiness and terms for providing transportation services consistent with the school’s budget assumptions. Third party must collect required information (include in application).
- A description of the charter school’s grievance procedure for parents or guardians. R.S. 160.405.1.(13)
Some burdensome requirements like those listed in the red category come from charter school authorizers, while others are codified into law. Both the Missouri Legislature and individual sponsors should review current requirements, focus on the necessary safeguards of quality, and eliminate regulations that make it impossible for Missouri charters to innovate and experiment.
To read more about cutting the red tape to unburden the charter school application process, click here.