How To Open a Charter School: 14 Steps to Starting a New School

Starting a new school is daunting but Charter Asset Management (CAM) can help simplify the process. Here, we take a look at how to open a charter school from a practical perspective. We outline the steps through which you will proceed from vision to reality, breaking them down into bite-sized, actionable stages. Let’s get started!

1. Commitment

You have the passion. You have the idea. You even have your core team assembled. But be realistic; do you have the ability to completely and solely dedicate yourself to the task of opening a new school for at least the next two years? Do you have the time? What are your current responsibilities? Do you have the fortitude? It will probably be one of the hardest (and most rewarding) things you ever do, so do some serious soul-searching. If so, great! Read on to see more about how to open a charter school in your community!

2. Legality of Charter Schools

In order to start a school, your state must allow them. Only 7 states currently do not have charter school laws (as of May 2017). They are Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia. If you are in a state with charter schools, proceed to step 3.

3. Capacity Limits

In determining how to open a charter school, it’s important to understand that 50% of the states with charter schools restrict the number of charter schools allowed to be in operation at any one moment. Check out the National Center for Education Statistics to see if your state has a limit, and contact your state’s DOE to learn if that limit has been reached.

4. New Schools

If your state allows unlimited numbers of charter schools, or the number of charter schools has not reached capacity, you may still be barred from opening a new school based on caps of certain types of schools. To see if your state curbs the number of new startups, conversion schools, or virtual schools, take a look at the Education Commision of the States’ 50-state policy comparison.

5. Concept & Mission

While establishing your school’s mission may at first appear to be more philosophical than practical, it is actually one the most critical components for working through how to open a charter school. Think about what is missing from the public schools that are currently in your district, what educational opportunities you plan on offering, and how your school will be unique.

6. Governance

Once you have the concept in mind, go out and find like-minded people who share a common vision and passion, as well as similar high levels of determination and focus. With them, create your board of directors and sub-committees.

Ideally, your board should have some people with education backgrounds and/or business savvy, and they need to understand their role is to guide and advise, not micromanage. If possible, include people who have broad and positive reputations in the local community.

7. Budget

Knowing how to open a charter school requires some knowledge in budgeting (if necessary, tap a board member for assistance). Create both three-year and one-year cash-flow budgets which you will revise every year going forward. Important considerations for your budget include:

  • Where to secure startup funds for your charter school
  • The number of students who will be enrolled the first year
  • What grades you will offer in the first year
  • The per-pupil revenue you expect from your state
  • A fundraising plan

8. Location

Be creative – almost any empty space can work, and where you first open your doors does not have to be your final location. Examine empty office space, warehouses, unused floors in public schools, old churches, or universities. Canvas your ideal neighborhood and ask local businesses if they know of any unused facilities, then start making phone calls.

9. Legal & Compliance

When looking into how to open a charter school, this is where you really need to pay attention to the details. Make a checklist and follow through on it (or have a board member with legal experience take on this responsibility).

Your state’s DOE has more about what laws exist and how to comply with them. The U.S. DOE has each state’s contact information. Become friends with the employees in the state offices – you need allies!

10. Letter of Intent & Application

Some states with charter schools require a letter stating your desire to open a new charter school before the application submission. If so, get this in the mail as soon as possible. The application itself can be up to 150 pages––it’s a process. In thinking about how to open a charter school, determine which team member has the strongest research and writing skills. After submitting the application, wait.

11. Hire Your Teachers

Application approved? Congratulations! Now the fun part. Recruit your staff and faculty, keeping your mission in mind. Want to create a school based around expeditionary learning? Ensure your team is experienced in implementing such a model.

12. Establish Curriculum

Give your teachers the opportunity to collaborate. Think about efficient ways to create your mission-aligned education model. Buy an entire pre-packaged curriculum, develop your own, or combine methods. Whatever you choose, ensure accountability with strict deadlines (sub-committees are extremely useful here) – you can’t open the doors if you don’t know what you will be teaching!

13. Enroll Students

Enroll 15% more pupils than needed in terms of your budget. For details on how to find students, read our article “Important Lessons from Successful Charter School Startups.”

14. Safety Plan

Have policies and procedures for dealing with student or staff injuries and national emergencies. What is the chain of contact for parents? How will you track illnesses? What insurance policies do you need? Be sure you have an answer these questions before the first day of school!

You Are Ready!

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of how to open a charter school. For more information and tips regarding starting, running, and expanding charter schools, take a look at our blog. When you need access to dependable, fast financing, you can count on CAM. Contact us to see how we can help.