How to Start a Charter School in California

California accounts for about one-fifth of the 3 million students enrolled in charter schools across the U.S. With more charter schools and a larger school enrollment than any other state, it’s easy to see why there is a rising number of new charter schools in California. Part of the growing enrollment is due to the fact that these learning institutions provide students with innovative approaches to learning while providing parents with an alternative option for their kids within the public school system.

Interest is growing among entrepreneurs, community leaders, education advocates, and charter organizations when it comes to starting charter schools in communities to give children higher quality education. If you’re wondering how to start a charter school in California, here’s what you should know:

The Process Takes Time

Starting a new charter school is a lengthy process. You need to designate a project manager and have a team that will work collaboratively to manage the multiple tasks involved. Having a reliable project manager is key to ensuring that deadlines are met. The right candidate should be highly motivated, stay engaged even under pressure, and have the capability to keep things moving forward. On average, it takes around 1-3 years to complete the entire process.

To understand how the process works, here’s an overview of the different tasks and timelines that it will take to achieve the complete school development process.

Developing the Charter School Concept

You need to develop a strong charter school concept. Your mission should be based on providing your local community with a great but innovative educational choice that doesn’t exist currently. You may have to do a needs assessment of the current public schools in the area and what they provide. This will help you create a charter school that offers a better instructional teaching and learning curriculum that isn’t yet being provided in public schools.

As you develop your school’s basic foundation, which is a critical step in understanding how to start a charter school in California, keep in mind that your state’s standards of education have to be met. Your goal is to provide excellent learning opportunities for a diverse range of students in your local community. With a clear concept in mind, it’s time to write down your mission statement. It should be easy to outline to your state’s Department of Education, so make it purposeful. A great mission should be tied to your core values and goals.

Having a work plan can make things a lot easier when it comes to developing a comprehensive charter school foundation. To complete this process successfully, you’ll also need to join the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) as a developer member, begin extensive research on the program, and secure nonprofit status to operate a charter school in California. The foundation process takes most teams approximately three to six months to complete.

Set a Budget, Choose a Location, and Write the Charter Petition

Before you go ahead with writing the charter petition, you need to have a pretty good idea of how much is going to be spent running the charter school. Your governing board should play a major role in determining the right budget, how best to get funds and how they should be used. You’ll need to reconsider your mission/vision statement as you create your budget. Make sure you also have a more detailed projection of your cash-flow for each operational year, and have board members review, and approve the projections and final budget.

Location is key when it comes to learning how to start a charter school in California. The learning facilities you decide to operate your charter school could either make or break your chances of achieving success. You’ll need to be innovative when it comes to selecting a perfect location—one that is in a central location. Don’t consider putting a downpayment yet on any potential property unless your application is already accepted. If not, you should still have a few places in mind to boost your petition application.

With the budget ready and potential locations identified, it’s time to write a charter petition. For your understanding, a charter petition acts much the same as a normal business plan for a new business. To create one that stands the chance of approval, you’ll need to conduct extensive research and be ready to revise your petition multiple times to fit requirements while balancing learning needs and overall goals. Your charter petition should have at least 15+ elements. It’s advisable to submit your petition in advance of the state/county/local district deadlines. Writing a petition may take anywhere between six to twelve months.

As a CCSA developer member, you may be eligible for a charter petition review at least a month in advance of your actual submission date. Set aside enough time to permit appeals and complete planning. You’ll have to meet grant and Prop. 39 deadlines to accommodate appeals and get numbered in time to receive the first apportionment. Be aware of the Prop. 39 Facilities Requests deadlines as the requests are due November 1 of the year before your charter school opens. To finalize this phase of learning how to start a charter school in California, you’ll want to submit your petition in the spring, one and a half years before your intended opening date.

School Charter Authorization

At this stage, you and your team should focus on getting your charter petition approved through community engagement and state or county authorizer outreach. You’ll need to come up with a strategic plan on how you will prepare for and present your charter petition at various school board meetings. After submission of your petition, the local district school board will have up to 60 days to authorize or deny your petition. A 30-day extension can be provided but under the mutual consent of both the school board and charter school development team.

It’s best practice to have charter petition approval in early February of the year before the school opens so that you can be assured of a timely release of funds for a fall opening. Understanding these details, including deadlines that may determine your qualification for facilities funding is a critical part of learning how to start a charter school in California. Most charter schools take between six to twelve months to get authorization.

Charter School Start-Up

During the charter school start-up stage, your team should now focus on developing a plan to get ready to open your approved charter school. A number of steps need to be carried out, including:

  • Enrollment of students and completion of orientation activities
  • Development of the charter school management board
  • Preparation of teaching and learning facilities
  • Establishment of funding options, financial processes, and procedures
  • Hiring and onboarding of school staff
  • Finalizing the school’s operational plan and academic curriculum
  • Meeting federal, state, and local compliance requirements
  • Implementation of the development plan for the charter school

Your team should take between six to twelve months to complete these steps.


Understanding how to start a charter school in California doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have a successful learning facility. Right after implementation of your charter school development plan, you’ll need to continuously monitor progress at all levels. You need to carry out regular assessments of your teaching and learning model, student performance, and school ranking to find opportunities for growth and areas where you can make positive changes.

At Charter Asset Management, we understand that sufficient funding plays a huge role in helping charter schools achieve development and performance success. As a leading provider of short-term, reliable funding for charter schools in California, we’re ready to help you get the capital or finance you need to drive your school’s growth. Contact us to learn more.