The short answer is that it can take anywhere from one to three years to complete the entire charter school development process.
I have been involved with charter school development projects in multiple states. Over the last 16 years, I have worked at the board and operator level as well as the authorizing level, so I have seen development from many different perspectives. This article will provide a very high-level overview of tasks associated with charter school development at each phase. This bird’s eye view will provide insight into the various tasks, but it is not all-encompassing. Every authorizer, state, or local entity may have additional components that need to be addressed in order to move development forward.
There are three phases to charter school development.
Phase I – Planning Phase
Phase II – Authorizer / Contracting Phase
Phase III – Start Up Phase
Some of the tasks in these phases may happen simultaneously, while some of the items must happen consecutively, depending on specific authorizer and local requirements. I will break down the phases to identify some very specific tasks and estimated timeframes that I have experienced.
Phase I – Planning Phase (this phase can take 3-6 months)
- Build the core development team
- Develop mission, vision, and structure of the school model
- Research authorizer requirements
- Determine authorizer and become familiar with application process
- Identify the target community
- Begin community outreach
- Establish board and secure nonprofit status
- Develop a startup budget
Phase II – Authorizer / Contracting Phase (this phase can take up to 12 months)
- Complete the school design and budget
- Build relationship with the authorizer and state association if there is one
- Participate in training or informational sessions if they are available
- Begin writing the charter school authorizer application or petition
- Submit application and participate in the interview and public hearing process if required
- Continue community engagement and board development
- Obtain authorizer approval
- Continue facility search / Secure facility upon approval
Phase III – Start Up Phase (this phase can take 6-12 months or more if you are building a facility)
- Prepare required handbooks, policies and enrollment documentation
- Focus on community engagement and enrollment and recruitment including parent orientation activities
- Build out facilities
- Purchase all equipment, materials and technology
- Ensure compliance with all state, federal and local requirements
- Recruit school leader and hire all staff
- Conduct board meetings to adopt initial policies and procedures
- Secure federal tax exempt status
- Open on the first day of school
Authorizer applicant processes vary. Some have developed rolling applications which also make things easier if you have a potential facility and want to move quickly. One of the key determining factors for development timing is availability of facilities that don’t require full buildout or major construction. New construction can wreak havoc on a proposed timeline.
I have worked with schools that have been able to open very quickly in non-traditional spaces, but if you are looking for a traditional school building, I would plan on 18-24 months of minimum development time to get through the above and open your doors ready to educate!