12 questions to ask if you think you want a charter school

The way that charter schools are promoted by big money, you’d think that all you have to do is snap your fingers, or sign a petition, and voila! a shiny new miracle school will appear.

Not so. A charter school might appear but it will probably look very different from what you expected.

There are questions that you need to ask yourself, your neighbors, other parents, school staff, school board members and school district officials before making any decisions about promoting a charter school.

Here are 12 questions to start the process:

1. Where would the charter school be located?

Would the charter school take over an existing school as in a “charter conversion” (Parent Trigger) or would it be a co-location? (Both of which have major issues.)

In terms of co-locations, see:

LAUSD to fight judge’s order on sharing classroom space with charters

Parents fight to keep charter out of Flatbush school with lawsuit

The battle for the soul of a community: scenes from contentious charter school hearing in S. Williamsburg — and the memory of another controversial co-location 25 years ago

How would the school building or space be paid for? Would it be leased or bought by the charter school or would the school district pick up the tab?

2. Would it require a parent trigger (school conversion)?

If so, consider the consequences of a derisive battle and a split school community. Also consider where the students would go who did not want to attend the charter school. Would there be enough space in a neighboring school? If not, then where would those students go?

And the teachers, would they stay of leave? If they left, how would they be absorbed by the school district?

For another example of a “school conversion” using a petition, see YouTube ‘Evidence’ Of Teacher’s Intimidation Tactics; Hundreds Of Angry, Confused Parents Show Up To District Board Meeting.

3. Who would teach in this charter school, Teach for America, Inc. recruits or qualified teachers? Would the teachers be part of the union (Seattle Educators Association)?

4. Would the school have longer school days? If so, how would that be paid for?

5. What would the curriculum be? Would it be tied into the Common Core Standards? Would there be standardized tests? If so, would those test results be used to determine if the charter school stays open or closes?

6. How would you rate the success or failure of the charter school?

7. How will the school be structured?

It’s typical for a  CEO to be in charge of a charter school, instead of a principal, with that person selecting the school board.

If it is a hand-selected school board, will parents be  part of the school board? Teachers?

8. Will all students have equal opportunity to attend the school and remain in the school? How can that be assured in a real way?

9. What about Title 1 money? How will that be distributed? Will it affect surrounding schools that receive Title 1 funding now if those students leave the school to attend the charter school? What impact would that have on the existing public school?

(To explain briefly, if a school has a certain percentage of students in the free or reduced lunch program, the school receives additional funding referred to as Title 1 money and is used for additional programs to help students get up to speed on their reading and math skills among other things.)

10. Will a for-profit Education Management Operator EMO or a Charter Management Operator (CMO) be running the school?

(Most people who start charter schools don’t know how to run or operate a school or don’t have the resources to do so. In that case, a CMO or an EMO will come in and handle the day-to-day operations of the school…for a price.)


Alert: Increased IRS Scrutiny of Charter Schools Operated by For-Profit Management Companies

Subcontracting Public Education

Charter Schools Outsource Education to Management Firms, With Mixed Results

11. How about transportation? Will the charter school pay for that or the school district? Or, will the parents be responsible for getting their students to the school?

If it’s an all district draw charter school, how would transportation be accommodated?

If parents would need to provide transportation then it is no longer equal opportunity for all and so much for “choice”.

12. Who will be liable if something happens on the charter school campus to a student or teacher? The district or the charter school?

After giving this careful consideration, you will probably have more questions. This is too important not to think through. It will not only impact your child, but it will affect other students, their families and the school community.

Post Script:

More questions come to mind.

If the state is not meeting its constitutional duty to adequately fund education in our state and legislators say that they can’t, how do you then fund an initiative? With what money?

It will cost $3M to set up the Charter School Commission. Is Gates going to pay for that also?

Dora Taylor


  1. I think that in some cases there’s an attitude that “we just have to try something — anything.” Of course that should be firmly slapped down, because you don’t “try something — anything” on vulnerable children. Would you do that with someone you loved? Would you do it in a medical situation? (Let’s just remove this liver and see what happens.) But instead, others respond “hey, yeah!” — and funders write checks. Then the “we have to try something — anything” crowd moves into “fake it till you make it,” and the whole thing turns into a snarl of lies and fraud.

  2. In listening to the debates about i-1240 , none of these crucial questions were explored in meaningful ways. The message from Gates and friends led the public to believe that WA would open up 40 new lovely, shiny Charter Schools that would bring “choice” , fix the drop-out rate and the achievement gap. without “costing one cent” or destroying anyone’s neighborhood school.

    Now reality sinks in. Great article!!

    1. Thanks.

      The one characteristic I have seen run through this ed reform movement is the lack of thought or foresight in terms of the details and ramifications of their ideas. For some, I don’t think that they have carefully considered their actions and the potential reactions, for others, I don’t think that they care. The latter are the ones who are simply in it for the money.


  3. Robert Valiant’s is a VERY good question, because this is routine here in California — if a school board rejects a charter application, the applicant may appeal to the county Board of Ed and then to the state Board of Ed. This frequently results in charter schools’ being forced into districts that did not want them — clearly not a recipe for a smoothly operating school district.

    Since I’m in California, where we’ve been afflicted with charter schools for nearly 20 years, and have followed the charter sector closely for many years, I’m adding some other points in response to some in this blog post.

    1. Conversion charters — in which the charter takes over an existing school — are almost always unsuccessful if the existing school is low-performing/struggling. Charter operators actually don’t want to do this, in general. (A covert trend that of course is being overlooked in the public discussion is for already elite, high-income public schools to charterize themselves so they can separate themselves from the challenges of a greater school district. That’s a moral and ethical issue with its own set of problems, including sheer George Wallace-like segregationism. But turning a challenged school into a charter has been shown over and over again to be unsuccessful.)
    2. Regarding the question of who would teach at the charter school — the charter sector itself admits that high teacher turnover is a chronic problem, destabilizing schools and lowering the quality of education. So even as it touts its supposed ability to “fire bad teachers,” the charter sector acknowledges that relying on the volunteerism and energy of bright-eyed young beginners is not a long-term successful solution.
    3. Regarding the question of closing charters that are struggling — here in San Francisco, and certainly elsewhere as well, it has been a huge problem that when a district moves to close a challenged charter, the mightily funded charter sector fights back with a bloody, very expensive legal and PR battle. The powerful and press-bewitching California Charter Schools Association has been heavily guilty of this. Seeing this makes other districts reluctant to move to close challenged charters, and you can see where this goes. Districts’ power to oversee the charters they run is badly hampered by this atrocious behavior by the charter sector.
    4. Charter schools are quite free to impose any admissions hurdles they wish, which obviously results in their enrolling the most motivated and complaint students with the most supportive families. This is largely overlooked and done quietly, if not secretly. Here in San Francisco, the most successful charter school requires a 13-page admissions application with multiple essay-length answers by the parent (too bad for limited-English speakers), transcripts and recommendations and an essay by the student, and so forth. San Francisco’s KIPP schools have required applicants to take a test — I don’t know if this is still the case as the only way I was able to confirm it was to apply for my own daughter. Clearly, these are potent screening mechanisms, and nobody in authority oversees or challenges them.

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