Who Can Start a Charter School?

There are many types of founders and founding groups in the charter school movement.

Some are parents seeking a better education for their children. Some are educators seeking to realize a dream of more effective education, a superior learning environment, a vision for educational innovation, or a more supportive place of employment. Some are community leaders seeking better education for the community’s children, community economic development, or hope for distressed neighborhoods. Some are organizations such as colleges, museums, Community Development Corporations, or social service organizations seeking to build on their missions/visions by creating new and improved educational institutions. Many are combinations of these groups.

At the heart of the founders’ dream is often an underlying theme that serves as the backbone of their educational vision. Charter school themes have been art-infused, environmentally-focused, character-education grounded, back-to-basics, progressive education focused, ethno-centric, or about special populations. Other charter schools seek to offer mainstream best practices finding their uniqueness in a small, highly personalized learning community.

The Role of the Founders

Founders serve many roles. At minimum, they must work together to plan for the charter school and complete the charter school application. In addition, they may become staff or board members of the charter school once it is in operation. The distinction between staff members and board members is key: in most states, board members are collectively the corporate “owner” of the school, while staff members are paid employees and may serve only in a non-voting (ex officio) capacity on the board.

Founders must possess or acquire diverse expertise:

  • understanding of the state charter school law
  • capacity to develop and write the charter application
  • understanding of educational law and related legal issues
  • marketing and recruiting expertise
  • media and community relations experience
  • ability to identify and obtain human and financial resources
  • expertise in real estate and facilities planning and management
  • expertise in educational assessment and evaluation
  • leadership, governance, and management experience
  • other areas as they apply to the school’s mission and situation

No one individual could possess all the required knowledge, so there is an obvious need for a team effort.