What to Consider When Choosing a Charter School

Thoughts to consider when seeking a Charter School for your child’s enrollment
(or your employment):
 
FACTS:
 
Summer School
            Summer school is intended for struggling students (aka credit recovery and/or remediation), not summer camp.  If the school is offering payment for summer camp or travel, it is likely beyond the acceptable use of public funds. The state of California funds only 175 days of school per year for independent study student.  A school collecting funds beyond that is likely working the system.  
 
 
Facilities
            The Shasta-Anderson decision in spring of 2018 made it very clear that no charter school may operate any facility outside of its authorizing district and within the same county. It doesn’t matter what it is called or how many hours it is operated.   The exception is when a facility cannot be established within the authorizing district and the charter school is given permission by the authorizer (which must be stated in the charter petition and on the school’s website) to operate ONE facility outside the district.  Facilities outside the county are limited to one as well.   
 
Educational Resources
            “Educational Units,” “Instructional Funds,” etc. do not reflect personalized and equitable practices in education.  Furthermore, to assign a universal “budget” to each student equally is a voucher system, which is not legal in the state of California.  While parents may be taxpayers, and schools are funded by taxpayers, funds allocated to charter schools do not belong to parents.  They belong to the school, and the school is responsible for ensuring that each student receives a free and appropriate education (FAPE).  This will cost more for some students than others.  A publicly-funded charter school has the obligation of ensuring families have the curriculum necessary to meet State Standards.  Some charter schools will go above and beyond state standards, but they must also be cognizant of the line between FAPE and gifts of public funds.
 
Charter School Status
If you cannot find your charter school on the CDE website https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/si/cs/ap/rpt.asp?s=2 then you are not enrolled in a charter school, but possibly a program being paid by a charter school. This is not only illegal, but puts you at risk of having inadequate academic records for your child.
           
 
 
RED FLAGS:
 
When a charter school has enrollment by more than a thousand students above the district which authorizes it, the district authorizer is going to be under scrutiny, and the charter school may be at risk of being closed.
 
When a charter school that is not a start-up pays more for oversight than the mandated 1%, it can be a sign that the authorizer is turning a blind eye to the charter school’s operations.  Again, this puts the charter school at risk of being closed.
 
When a charter school has hundreds of “vendors” or independent contractors, that is a sign that the credentialed/qualified staff are being spread thin, are not adept at supporting students, or both.  The school may be turning to providers which may or may not be qualified and/or effective educators. 
 
When a charter school has been in operation for more than three years, there is little to no reason to “outsource” basic business services.  A Charter Management Organization (CMO) should be handling all its services in-house.  If they are outsourcing, it can be a sign that someone is making a profit. 
 
If the school is part of a CMO, how are the schools different?  Could any student from one school easily be moved to another school within the CMO? If so, there is likely some shady operations going on since there is no legitimate reason to have more than one identical school (beyond residential boundaries).
 
 
Check the charter school’s website.  If you cannot find the following, stear clear:
1.     The charter school’s petition, or a petition which reflects the program they actually operate.
2.     Details about the governing board, who they are, how and when they meet, and how to participate in their meetings. Do they provide public financial reports at their meetings?
3.     Information about administration.  Is there a Charter Management Organization (CMO)?  How is it operated? Is it local? Who is the Director or Principal of your school?  Is contact information readily available?
4.     When the school was approved to begin operations.