How to Open a Charter School

Deciding to open a charter school is pretty easy. You notice the local public school isn’t meeting a certain need, so you choose to start one of your own.¬†Understanding how to open a charter school is more challenging.

Getting approved for a charter school is a lengthy process that requires time, research, and money. Even if you do hit the approval milestone, your school is regularly held accountable, meaning you’d better have a great infrastructure in place.

So how do you open a charter school from scratch? Check out our handy infographic below, then read on for more!

how to open a charter school

Figure Out Your School’s Core Values and Philosophy

This many sound like a silly exercise, but it’s an important step to complete before applying for a charter. While you may have a vague idea of the kind of school you want to run, it’s likely in the context of what you don’t like about the nearby public schools. This won’t cut it, especially when you’re in the thick of making difficult operational and budget decisions.

Sit down and outline the core values and philosophy of your school. This document will serve as your touchpoint while you make hiring and financial decisions. It’ll also help during the application process when you’re asked to explain your school’s pedagogy.

Resource: Check out this list of the best charter high schools in the United States and read their mission statements to gain some inspiration.

Complete Your Application and Submit It to One of The State Sponsors

Charter school developers need to receive approval from one of the following sponsors in Arizona: the state board of education, the state board for charter schools, or an Arizona university or community college. Other states, of course, have different application processes. For the purposes of this article, we will assume applicants turn to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools.

This application isn’t a simple case of fill-in-the-blanks. It requires a lot of research and preparation to provide an acceptable application.

The key components of your application include:

  • A detailed educational plan
  • A detailed budget
  • A detailed operational plan

Resource: The Arizona State Board of Charter Schools provides a detailed instruction manual for submitting applications. These instructions are available in video format as well.

Create a Detailed Operational Plan

As you probably expected, your application needs more than just a dream list of teachers and administrators. You need a detailed operational plan that will allow you to hit the ground running on the very first day of school. This plan includes an explanation of your day-to-day operations, and a clear organizational chart.

Your operational plan must also account for employees and contractors. What sorts of qualifications will your staff, whether it’s administrators or teachers, need? Which aspects of the school (i.e. legal, IT, etc.) will require the assistance of an outside contractor? How will outside contractors be evaluated, and what will the total cost of all your contractors be? Be prepared to answer these sorts of questions in your operational plan.

Resource: New charter school founders should prepare for the administrative side of running a school through programs like the Principals’ Leadership Academy of Arizona run by the Arizona Educational Foundation.

Create a Detailed Business Plan

Yes, charter schools receive public funds, but that doesn’t mean they have the startup money required to get the ball rolling. While charter school creators can apply for grants to help with startup costs, they usually need to look for other sources of funding through investors or fundraising.

Submit a Verifiable Proof of Secured Funds form to account for the expected source of funds for each budget item.

Your business plan should also include a three-year operational budget that covers the projected costs of running the school over that period of time, in addition to an explanation of the time and cost of finding the right facilities and faculty.

Resource: Preparing a business plan is not impossible – it’s just a tedious task that takes quite a bit of work and research. Even if you’ve never made one before, there are charter school business plan templates available online to get you started.

Come Up With a Marketing Plan

Of course, you need students for your charter school to be operational (and to receive public funds). This means you need to get the word out there about your planned charter school. First, conduct a survey to gauge the community interest-level for your particular school. This can help you validate your plans before committing to the huge effort of building the school.

Your application will need to show some indication that there is a community of interested parents and students that will support your school. You will also need to include a marketing strategy that details your ongoing recruitment plans.

Resource: Even if you have an intuitive understanding of marketing, you’ll need to explain your strategy and tactics in writing. There are hundreds of articles available online detailing how to put together a great marketing plan.

Starting a charter school is tough work, and it isn’t something that’s done overnight. Considering the hiring, fundraising, and research involved, give yourself around two years to prepare. That said, with the right combination of dedication and planning, you’ll be enrolling new students in no time.


Opening a new charter school?

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