October
12th 2017
Opening a charter school is difficult – but worth it

Posted under charter schools & Educational Choice & Independence Institute & Public Charter Schools & Publications & Ross Izard

My friends at the Independence Institute published a new paper in July telling the stories of three groups of parents and visionaries seeking better educational options for children in their communities by starting charter schools.

Often, I don’t know why adults do what they do.  Sometimes they seem so stressed and anxious.  Sometimes they aren’t nice to each other.  Sometimes they seem so desperate and hopeless.

Other times they seem deeply satisfied, happy, or even elated.  They seem to be this way when they accomplish something that they believe to be extremely valuable—something for which they were driven to work hard.  It’s hard for me to relate because my largest accomplishment in any given day is getting my shirt on right-side-out.

One thing that adults seem to value is doing right by their children, and a big part of that is ensuring that they receive a quality education.  In some cases, that requires lots of hard work.

In The Challenges of Opening a Charter School: Three Colorado Case Studies, Ross Izard portrays the countless hours of hard work that go into navigating the many legal, logistical and bureaucratic barriers to opening a charter school.  Some of these barriers are common to all potential charter schools, but each school also faces its own unique challenges.  Izard contrasts the challenges faced by the parents trying to open a STEM-focused school in an affluent community with those faced by a visionary seeking to open a charter high school to serve teens in a poverty-stricken neighborhood who are pregnant or already parents, and still others faced by parents simply trying to expand school choice in an average suburban area with a classical charter school.

So, what does it really take to open a charter school?  First, there must be a shared vision among the parents and advocates seeking to open a charter school for what a “better” education means.  Next comes translating that vision into a hundreds-of-pages-long charter application, followed by navigating the politics and bureaucracy surrounding the application process.  Charter schools must be authorized by either a school district or the state chartering authority.  Many applications are rejected on either merit or politics.  Though charter schools can request waivers from many state laws, giving them more freedom to be autonomous, they are still public schools and must meet state academic standards and administer state assessments.  Sounds both easy and fun, right?

Wrong.

One of the most difficult challenges is funding.  Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools often must provide their own facilities, forcing them to spend resources out of their operating budgets.  There are federal and state grant programs that help charters get started, though they fall short of covering the full cost.  This leaves less money to pay their teachers, meaning they must work to find quality educators willing to work for less than they could earn in a traditional public school.

Why is it, then, that so many of these schools end up succeeding despite these disadvantages?  It’s simple: persistence, patience, and the relentless desire of parents and other visionaries determined to provide a high-quality education for Colorado’s children.

I don’t always know why adults do what they do, but this paper helps me to understand what they’re up against in the fight to create the best educational opportunities for their children.

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