Poor Quality Charter School Applications Are Common

One of the main reasons many charter school applications are rejected repeatedly by public school boards across the country is because they are poorly-written and low quality in many ways.

Such applications are often full of spelling mistakes, overly-ambitious claims, vague details, incomplete responses, many blank boxes, incorrect information, and more. The application is supposed to be a serious, rigorous, and thorough business and education plan to educate hundreds of youth for years in a stable, safe, and clean environment with highly qualified professionals and excellent programs.

What makes all this bizarre is that charter school promoters and operators are either rich and well-connected or have rich and well-connected backers. As such, they can easily hire skilled people to professionally complete such applications but it appears that they frequently do not take such steps. This is all besides the fact that there is no justification for the existence of privately-operated charter schools in the first place and that public funds and facilities belong to public schools, not narrow private interests that promote and operate segregated charter schools governed by unelected private persons.

In this context it is also important to recall the low levels of accountability and transparency that have defined most charter schools for decades and how this plays into the unprofessional approach taken by many trying to start a deregulated charter school that siphons funds from public schools. It is no surprise that privately-operated charter schools fail and close every week.

Below are three different examples of the types of comments public school board officials typically make when they receive a low quality charter school application. The first example comes from Kentucky (2019):

“The applicant lacked specificity and provided unfinished planning in multiple areas that leave significant question as to whether or not the school will be able to launch successfully for a proposed August 2020 start date,” Superintendent Kelly Middleton told the Board of Education, according to a press release. “The applicant does not provide data to support the complexities of the population to be served and relies on generalized notions of what the applicant believes should be good for all children.”

The second example comes from California (2021):

Dismissing it as poorly planned and financially rickety, the Napa Valley Unified School District board unanimously vetoed a petition to open the Mayacamas Charter Middle School starting in August 2022…. Myriad objections to Mayacamas budget and education plan, which surfaced in an evaluation by district staff released Nov. 22, were readily supported by all seven NVUSD trustees, who alleged that the would-be school’s chief advocates refused even a person-to-person interview to respond to district leaders’ objections. (emphasis added)

The third example comes from Colorado (2021):

The [Woodland Park RE-2] school board was also concerned that the Merit Academy [Charter School] had no facility in mind to start school in fall of this year. The board said that the school district would have to vet the facility to ensure that it could provide for the educational needs of the students. The resolution also pointed out that the Merit Academy did not have a plan for a facility after year one. The school board also had more problems with the Merit Academy’s planning. They said that the charter school representatives did not present a detailed operational plan to properly educate students. The board was also concerned that offering grades K-10 was too broad of a spectrum of learning, and that the school didn’t outline how they would properly cater to every grade level.

Endless other examples from across the country could be provided. The same shoddy pattern appears coast to coast year after year. Countless charter school applications simply do not meet many basic standards and requirements. As such, charter school promoters and operators have worked tirelessly to restructure state arrangements along more neoliberal lines so as to get their school applications approved with far less vetting and screening. These new arrangements usually take the form of a “commission” or “board” comprised of appointed individuals who have a charter-friendly outlook and can override the rejections and denials of publicly elected school board officials.

In the coming months and years more public school boards will continue to reject charter school applications.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.