+ What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school that is independently run. It receives greater flexibility over operations in exchange for increased performance accountability. The school is established by a “charter," which is a performance contract describing key elements of the school. The charter contract describes things like the school’s mission, instructional program, governance, personnel, finance, plans for student enrollment, and how all these are measured.

State law and charter contracts provide schools with autonomy over curriculum, personnel, budget, and schedule. Charter schools are schools of choice, meaning students are not assigned to the school because of where they live, families must choose to enroll their child in a charter school.

As public schools, charter schools are prohibited from charging tuition and must not be religious in their operation or affiliation. In most cases, charter admissions are determined by lottery when there are more applications than seats. Charter schools are not exempt from federal laws that cover students’ rights or safety, including special education and other civil rights protections. They are also subject to state accountability systems and their students must take required state tests.

In exchange for this autonomy, charters are subject to periodic performance reviews and may be closed for failing to meet agreed-upon outcomes. Charter schools receive public funding based on the number of students they enroll. In general, charter schools receive less funding than traditional public schools in the local area.

+ Who may apply to open a charter public school?

In Maryland, an application to establish a public charter school may be submitted to the Board by:

  • the staff of a public school
  • a parent or guardian of a student who attends a public school
  • a nonsectarian, nonprofit entity
  • a nonsectarian instition of high education in the state
  • any combination of persons specificed above.

Under the Charter Law, the Board shall not grant a charter to:

  • a private school
  • a parochial school
  • a home school

It is strongly recommended that a group of people work together on the school as opposed to one individual. This group is thought of as a Founding Team (or Steering Committee, Planning Group, etc.) and together they should bring a diverse set of skills and experience to the effort. Valuable expertise that a Founding Team should possess includes, but is not limited to, the following areas:

  • Project Management
  • Financial Management/Accounting
  • Community/Facility Development
  • Administration/ Nonprofit
  • Education
  • Fundraising
  • Marketing and Outreach
  • Human Resources
  • Entrepreneurial Experience
  • Business/Corporate
  • Real Estate
  • Law
  • Parents of School Aged Child/ren

+ What is a charter school authorizer? What does it do?

Charter school authorizers are responsible for deciding which charter applicants are approved and for overseeing the school after it is approved. In Maryland the only authorizers are the local school districts.

In addition to deciding whether to grant a charter, the authorizer also enters into the charter contract with the approved school and monitors the school. At the end of the charter school’s term, the authorizer decides whether to renew the schools charter for a new term or close the school.

+ How long does it take to start a charter public school?

Starting a school is an enormous undertaking and founding teams are advised to take enough time to be methodical; establishing support and need, networking within the community, working on school design, establishing the leadership structure, governance and financial model, locating an adequate facility, etc. We have found that to develop the foundation for a sustainable and high quality school; it takes about three years on average from conception to doors opening. There are schools that have opened in less time and others that have taken longer, but there are often extenuating circumstances in both cases. For example, a school that has opened sooner often already has a facility secured or has a founder who can work full time on the application. And schools that take longer than three years have run into facilities and enrollment challenges or have gone through a lengthy appeal process after being denied by their district.

+ What is a charter application?

A charter application is a lengthy document that you create in alignment with the district's application process. If your district doesn’t provide customized application guidelines it is possible that they use the MSDE Model Charter Application (always check with your district to see what they want you to use).

+ When is the charter application due?

Each district/authorizer sets their own deadline specifying when they accept charter applications. Therefore, an applicant must reach out to their desired district authorizer to find out when their charter application deadline will be. You can find the application deadline and the contacts for the charter liasons in the Founder's Manual.

+ What if our application is denied by the district/authorizer?

If a charter application is denied, MAPCS recommends that the applicant review the districts reasons for denial. If the applicant team determines that the districts denial was unfounded, the team may appeal to the State Board of Education within 30 days of the district’s decision. The Maryland State Board of Education then has 120 days to hear the appeal and may either remand the application back to the district for further consideration or uphold the district’s decision.

+ Can charter schools charge tuition or fees?

As public schools, charter schools may not charge tuition. They are allowed to charge fees that are similar to fees that traditional public school charge to families.

+ What is a charter management organization?

Charter management organizations (CMOs) are non-profit organizations that run more than one charter school. CMOs operate in several ways. In some cases, a separate non-profit organization or group of parents apply for a charter school. This group becomes the charter holder, and they then contract with the CMO to run their school on a day-to-day basis. In other cases, the CMO applies for a charter itself and receives its charter contract directly from the charter school authorizer.