How do you take a dream and turn it into a successful charter school
FCPCS can help you at every step along the way.
- If you are just getting started, please refer to How to Start a Charter School in Florida published by the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, Florida Department of Education to guide you through the initial planning process.
- We also recommend that you visit the U.S. Department of Education’s extensive website on charter schools for additional details on each aspect of starting and opening a charter school.
- FCPCS offers a variety of programs and services for charter school developers through a special low-cost Membership for Charter School Developers. Membership benefits include:
- Access to FCPCS Preferred Consultants, who have expertise in many areas of charter school operations
- The “Best Practices” section of the website, which features dozens of school forms and procedures used in charter schools, and information on developing “Power Standards” and standards-based assessment instruments
- The latest charter school news, including the latest changes to charter school law
- Discounts on customized Training and Professional Development, including training for Governing Boards
Apply for membership online now. For more information, contact FCPCS at 954-463-9595 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The First Steps: From Vision to Charter Application
When to Start
FCPCS recommends that new charter school developers spend at least two years or more to plan their new school. This will allow sufficient time to assemble a good founding team and board of directors, gather information on demographics, define the instructional program, create a sound financial and marketing plan, identify potential school sites, and submit a well-designed charter application.
Step 1: The Founding Team
You can’t do it by yourself. Assemble a group of friends, colleagues, other professionals who can serve as your founding team. You will need a team of people who share your vision and passion and who are willing to help you accomplish your goal. This founding team will not necessarily serve as the school’s governing board.
Step 2: Vision and Definition
With your founding team members, create a written summary that defines how you envision your new charter school. Identify the reasons you want to start a charter school and what you hope to accomplish. In that summary, include detailed answers to the following questions:
- What is the mission of the school? Write a short 3-5 sentence mission statement.
- Will the school have a particular theme, curriculum emphasis or educational philosophy? If so, explain.
- Will it serve a special population of students?
- Will it serve a targeted community? Define that targeted community in as much detail as possible.
This summary will serve as the “executive summary” of your school. It will evolve as you move forward with your plans and eventually become part of the school’s official documents, including the charter application, publicity materials, etc.
Step 3: Research
You will want to acquire a thorough knowledge of charter school development and the geographic area where you plan to establish your school. Allow sufficient time for your team to conduct research on the topics that pertain to your planned school. During this time, learn about the following:
- The application process: the application form, timeline, documents to be completed and submitted
- Your future eligibility for grants and charter school start-up funds
- Other charter school applications that have been successfully completed and approved
- Charter schools that can serve as a model for your planned school
- The Florida charter school statutes
- How charter schools are funded in Florida
- Special education laws and how they pertain to charter schools and your school in particular
- Charter Schools: Creating Hope and Opportunity for American Education, Joe Nathan, The Jossey-Bass Education Series, 1998 (Paperback)
- Free to Learn Lessons from Model Charter Schools, Lance T. Izumi, Pacific Research Institute, 2005 (Paperback)
- On the Journey to Open a New School: One Step at a Time, Brenda J. Travis, 2005 (Paperback)
- Developing a Private or Charter School: the A to Z planning of a successful school (CD-ROM) by David W. Champagne, Breut Goldman, Richard Goldman, Phyllis M. Olmstead
- How to Create Alternative, Magnet, & Charter Schools That Work by Robert D. Barr and William Parrett, National Educational Service, 1997 (Paperback)
Step 4: Governance
What type of organization will govern your charter school? Learn about the types of non-profit governance structures and decide which one will serve you the best. Decide whether you want to create another non-profit organization that will govern your school.
Identify individuals who will serve on the board of your governing organization. Some of these individuals may be from your founding team. You should identify five or more individuals who are willing to serve on a governing board and who will not receive any compensation or profit from the new charter school. These individuals should be able to lend different types of expertise to the board. Charter schools often have individuals on their board who have expertise in law, accounting, business management, marketing, education and real estate.
Learn how to apply for 501(c)(3) status and how to create articles of incorporation and by-laws for your school.
Step 5. Further Definition and Timeline
Your new board of directors and founding team should be ready now to tackle the next steps of charter school planning. This involves developing the details of the school’s organization, leadership, academic program, budget projections and location.
Your board should set up a timeline for this process to insure that you have all the necessary elements in place and on time to create a business plan and write your charter application.
The following are just some of the elements to be developed and identified during this stage:
- Organizational chart
- Job description of school leader
- Initial job descriptions for other faculty and school staff
- Curriculum programs and materials
- Technology plan
- Marketing plan
- Measurable goals for student academic achievement, parental involvement, staff development
- Possible sites for school location, including alternates
- Plans for purchasing or leasing primary and alternate sites
- Demographic information on students and families living in selected sites and on nearby public schools
- Initial budget projection for first year of operation and for first five years
When you are creating your initial budgets, be sure to address these questions within your expenses:
- How many students will you need to achieve a balanced budget?
- How many students should you plan for in each grade level every year? Remember to account for students moving up through each grade level.
- What is your plan if fewer students than anticipated enroll in the first year?
- According to the student count, how many administrators and support personnel will you need?
- What salaries will you pay your experienced versus new teachers?
- How many paraprofessionals will you need to hire and what you will pay them?
- Have you included enough in your budget for instructional materials?
- How much will you need to budget for professional development of your staff?
- What contracted services will your school need, such as meal services, bus transportation, accounting, legal services, and special education services?
- How will you provide meals to your students?
- What is the estimated number of students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program that you will serve?
- How will you expand your facilities when your enrollment increases?
- Will you purchase or take out a long-term lease on your facility?
- What renovations will be necessary for your initial facility, including those required to meet safety and building codes?
- Have you budgeted for a separate space to conduct student therapies and counseling?
- Will you operate before and after care for your students? Who will run these programs?
- Have you set aside enough in the budget for a reserve fund? Remember, unexpected costs, such as hurricane repairs, are likely to arise.
- Do your figures in the budget for year one align with those in the first year of the five-year projected budget?
Step 6: The Facility
Charter schools, unlike traditional public schools, must find and finance their own school sites. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for charter school developers in Florida is the lack of suitable, affordable facilities. Charter school developers have used extraordinary creativity and resolve in converting a variety of structures into viable charter school facilities.
Charter school developers should enlist the help of a qualified real estate agent, preferably with experience in charter school real estate, to assist them in finding a site at least a year in advance of the school’s opening date.
Types of real estate that have been converted into charter schools:
- Church buildings with classroom space: Many charter schools are housed in churches that are willing to lease classroom and other space that is not used during weekdays to charter schools or in abandoned church sites.
- Surplus public school buildings: Charter schools may use surplus facilities owned by their local school district, according to the Florida charter school statutes 1002.33(18):
(e) If a district school board facility or property is available because it is surplus, marked for disposal, or otherwise unused, it shall be provided for a charter school's use on the same basis as it is made available to other public schools in the district.
- Abandoned private school facilities
- Office space
- Strip mall store space
- Abandoned warehouse-type stores
- Abandoned residential treatment facilities (old nursing homes, psychiatric facilities)
- Charter schools-in-a-workplace: Charter schools may be developed within a workplace to serve the children of employees, according to the Florida charter school statutes 1002.33(15):
(b) A charter school-in-the-workplace may be established when a business partner provides the school facility to be used; enrolls students based upon a random lottery that involves all of the children of employees of that business or corporation who are seeking enrollment, as provided for in subsection (10); and enrolls students according to the racial/ethnic balance provisions described in subparagraph (7)(a)8. Any portion of a facility used for a public charter school shall be exempt from ad valorem taxes, as provided for in s. 1013.54, for the duration of its use as a public school.
- Conversions of existing public schools: Existing public schools and schools-within-schools may apply to convert to a charter school, according to the Florida Charter School Statutes – 1002.33(3)(b) – but the process is difficult. A handful of Florida public schools have succeeded in converting to charter schools.
- As part of a new housing development, using educational impact fees: The Florida charter school statutes allow the use of educational impact fees generated from new residential developments for new charter school construction - 1002.33(18):
(f) To the extent that charter school facilities are specifically created to mitigate the educational impact created by the development of new residential dwelling units, pursuant to subparagraph (2)(c)4., some of or all of the educational impact fees required to be paid in connection with the new residential dwelling units may be designated instead for the construction of the charter school facilities that will mitigate the student station impact.
Building and Fire Code Compliance: Any charter school facility must comply with the Florida Building Code (except for the State Requirements for Educational Facilities) and the Florida Fire Prevention Code, as adopted by the authority in whose jurisdiction the facility is located.
New charter school developers should become familiar with these requirements as early in the process as possible, so that necessary modifications to the selected site can be included in the facilities budget and implemented in a timely fashion. Many charter schools have had to delay their openings due to code compliance issues.
Step 7: The Application
Your team should have all of the information mentioned above in hand before starting the Charter School Application, which is due to your school district sponsor on August 1. Ideally, you should give yourself several months to complete the application. You will want to contact your school district’s charter school office several months in advance to learn to inform them of your intent to apply and learn if the office has other resources that could help you in writing your application.
When completing the application, provide as much detailed information as possible under each section. If you cannot complete each section of the application completely and confidently, you may not be ready to move forward with your charter school.