Are you frustrated with public school education and want to create something different that is based on your ideals of what education should be? Start a charter school that is a public school that receives public funding but is operated independently. Charter schools are not subject to as many of the regulations that apply to other public schools. Charter schools are guided by a contract or a charter that describes the school’s mission, structure, and performance requirements. A charter school has the freedom to adopt innovative education models, and charter schools offer many opportunities to find a school that fits your child’s learning style.
Be aware that the process to set up a charter school may take years to start successfully. The process includes your decision to start school, the approval process, and actually opening the doors of your charter school. However, Julie S. Doar-Sinkfield, Executive Director of the William D. Doar, Jr. Pubic Charter School for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, states that setting up a charter school, “‘Is truly rewarding.” Doar-Sinkfield states that in spite of all the hard work, she would open up a charter school again.
You can get advice and follow the example of the American Preparatory Academy that has been a successful charter school entity since its conception in 2002. The model of American Preparatory Academy is based on a successful school in Colorado who had a focus on rigorous academics and character development. The environment of learning, fun, and enthusiasm opened with parents, students, and teachers sharing a common vision where students could “change the world for the better.”
Some ideas for opening a charter school and ideas American Preparatory Academy followed are:
- Find a core team of founders who share a common goal for the charter school. Do market research and feasibility studies. You need to find out if a charter school will be allowed, needed, or even wanted in your targeted area.
- Write a business plan for your charter school. Come up with a good sellable business plan that is also referred to as a school plan. Your business or school plan is a blueprint of your school and is a document that can aid you in setting up your school and manage the school successfully.
- Fill out the proper paperwork. Applications can be as long as 150 pages, and it does need to be filled out fully. Once you have written your application, you will need to submit it to the charter authorizer (the board of education or the school district in your state) for approval. There will be a revision period, and you may have to resubmit the application with any requested changes.
- Bankroll your early efforts. Charter schools are supported by public money, but that money isn’t available until your school is official. You will need founders who will fund the process until the school is approved.
Start-up money for a charter school can come from personal savings, sale of personal stock and properties, raising money from investors, applying for loans from your bank, pitching your business idea, and applying for business grants.
Make sure you get your economic analysis right. Charter schools are not ventures that spin money like other businesses.
Beginning a charter school is more social service and philanthropic entity than a business. To use the best legal entity for a charter school, consult Charter management organizations or CMOS in your state for the best way to label your charter school (sole proprietorship, general partnership, limited partnership).
- Secure buy-ins from the community you want to target. You will need to find people to speak on the charter school’s behalf. Form a diverse board that includes individuals with an education-based background, and those with business -savvy and good financial and operations experiences. You will need to have a “business” plan, so the business benefits of the charter will be transparent and handled efficiently.
- Look around for a good location. Many charters set up their school in empty school buildings or choose former office spaces or empty warehouses. Some charter authorizers may require you have your space before they grant approval. You will need to demonstrate you are invested in the real estate for the school before you can be a school.
- Once you have approval from the charter authorizer, you need to recruit teachers, students, and staff.
American Preparatory Academy recruits teachers who have the enthusiasm and teach up to their greatest potential. Teachers do need to have a bachelor’s degree in their field of choice, five years of work experience, and passing scores on state tests for basic skills and subject matter knowledge. You do need to graduate with an education degree from an accredited college or university.