Charter Schools

There are several avenues for improving education. One is the charter school idea.

Unfamiliar with charter schools? Please read the list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). See also our page on charter school laws.

The state of charter schools in Kansas

While Kansas does have some charter schools, the state law on the subject on them does not encourage their development. Here’s what KSDE had to say about charter schools on May 21, 2010. Note the words in bold.

School restructuring requires new paradigms, new models and approaches, new ways of thinking, and new educational choices.  Restructuring efforts in Kansas are based on the premise that all children can learn, that learning should be a lifelong opportunity, and that properly educated citizens will directly impact on the economy of our State and our country as a whole. Charter schools in Kansas are independent public schools that operate within a school district. They can be designed and operated by parents, educators, community leaders, education entrepreneurs and others.  They are operated free-of-charge to parents and are open to all students.  In addition, every charter school in Kansas is subject to the accreditation requirements of the state board of education and must be accredited to maintain its charter. While a charter school is separate and distinct, with its own building number, state assessment scores and demographic information, a charter school may be housed in an existing school facility with another school as long as it is operated separately.

While KSDE says both that charter schools are “operated separately” and that they  “operate within a school district,” charter schools in Kansas do not not have the legal and financial autonomy that they have in other states. In fact, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranks Kansas 36th out of the 40 states that have charter school laws, saying “it needs improvement across the board.”For more on Kansas’s charter school law, see this page on the the Kansas Education site.

Charter school authorizers are key to the success of charter schools. Kansas comes up short on this regard. See the “Authorizers” page to learn why.

Charter Schools Elsewhere

There are a variety of charter schools.  A good place to begin to understand the variety is a report published by the Colorado Department of Education, called A Typology of Colorado Charter Schools (PDF). As the name suggests, the report focuses on one state. But the types are found across the country. Many are operated by a single board of education leaders, others have many different schools. Here are a few of the larger-scale groups that operate multiple schools: Imagine Schools operates in over a dozen states. KIPP, or Knowledge if Power Program, operates perhaps more charter schools than anyone else. National Heritage Academies is another multi-state organization. Insight Schools offers online schools in many states–sometimes as charters, sometimes through a particular school district.

Official Sources of Information on Charter Schools

The Education Commission of the States is an official organization of state governments. Its activities concerning charter schools involve “Helping States Use Chartering as a Strategy to Meet the Demands of the No Child Left Behind Act.” The U.S. Department of Education provides assistance to states and to charter schools. The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools is one of several authorities that can authorize charter schools in the state of Arizona.

The Teacher Unions on Charter Schools

The teachers union–the National Education Association–doesn’t come out and say that charter schools are bad. The national office leaves some discretion to state affiliates. However, it does insist that (a) school districts have a veto power over charter school applications; (b) profit-making companies be prohibited from operating a charter school, and (c) the labor restrictions governing district schools apply to charter schools as well. Call it “equal treatment,” we call it handicapping a good idea. The American Federation of Teachers, another union, claims some of the credit for the creation of the charter school idea. On the other hand, other experts on education argue that unions stifle charter schools.

Charter School Associations and School Directories in Other States

A number of states have statewide associations of charter schools, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota , and Texas. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers “welcomes and serves the needs of the full range of chartering authorities: local school boards and districts of all sizes, state boards and departments of education, universities and colleges, municipal bodies, independent chartering boards and qualified non-profit organizations.” The Center for Education Reform has assembled a directory of public charter schools.

Would you like to start a charter school?

Starting a charter school is more difficult than it appears.

There is, first of all, Kansas law (PDF) governing the establishment of a charter school. It’s pretty restrictive: You must secure the permission of a local school district. The KSDE web site offers information about what’s involved in starting a charter school, starting with the Petition to Establish a Charter School. See this page on our site to review the petition, which is also available on the KSDE website as a document in MS Word.  Petitioners must describe and defend why their school is needed, and how it will operate. The Kansas Charter School Petition Rubric (Word) is a guideline for school districts (a series of checklists) in evaluating petitions.

NCLB Guidance (PDF): Are charter schools subject to No Child Left Behind? (PDF) The short answer: yes.

Vendor Applications instructions (Word) is a file that was used by individuals and firms seeking grants to serve as consultants to charter schools.

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