Meeting of the Board of Regents | January 2009
THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
Charter Schools - Questions and Answers
December 30, 2008
Issue for Discussion
What are the key policy issues related to charter schools that the Regents want to examine and discuss at future meetings? Does the enclosed Question and Answer document respond to the questions raised by the Board of Regents concerning charter schools? Is there additional information the Regents wish to receive concerning the charter school statute or Department processes to inform their policy discussions?
Reason(s) for Consideration
This item will come before the Regents EMSC Committee for discussion at the January 2009 meeting.
Each month the Board of Regents takes action on applications and proposed charters for new charter schools as well as revisions and renewals of existing charters.
The New York Charter Schools Act, (Education Law, Article 56), was enacted in 1998. This law authorized the creation of 100 charter schools in New York State. The law was amended in 2007 (Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2007) to increase the number of authorized charter schools by 100 additional schools for a total of 200. The stated purpose cited in the statute “is to authorize a system of charter schools to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently of existing schools and school districts.” Although all charter school applications must come before the Board of Regents for action, the law authorizes the Board of Regents, the SUNY Board of Trustees, and local school districts as chartering entities. This has resulted in some differences in approaches to approval and oversight of charter schools as well as interpretation of the requirements of the Charter Schools Act.
As the Regents consider policy issues related to charter schools that they may wish to discuss in the future, staff has prepared the attached question and answer document that responds to questions raised by members of the Board of Regents including the statutory requirements of the Charter Schools Act; the role of the Board of Regents concerning charter school proposals from the SUNY Board of Trustees and local school districts; the processes used by Department staff in reviewing charter school proposals and the limited resources provided to the Department for this function.
The Regents may want to identify additional background information on Charter Schools that they wish to receive. In addition, the Regents may want to identify policy issues for future discussions.
Timetable for Implementation
Questions and Answers on Charter Schools
What are the purposes of charter schools?
NYS law defines the purposes of charter schools as follows:
- Improve student learning and achievement;
- Increase learning opportunities for students who are at-risk of academic failure;
- Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;
- Create new professional opportunities for educators;
- Provide parents and students with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system; and
- Provide schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems
How many charters schools are permitted by law?
The Charter School Act authorizes the Regents to issue up to 200 charters (the cap of 200 does not include charters issued to traditional public schools that convert to charter schools).
- To date, the Regents have issued 150 charters
- 6 charters have been issued to conversion schools and do not count toward the cap of 200.
- 13 charter schools have closed - charters issued for those schools still count against the cap of 200
- The Regents can issue 56 additional charters to reach the cap of 200 and an unlimited number of charters to conversion schools
- 137 charter schools are currently approved to operate in NYS:
- 116 are in operation now
- 17 will start in 2009-2010
- 4 will start in 2010-2011
- Of the 137 currently approved charter schools:
- 63 are SUNY charter schools
- 47 are NYC DOE charter schools
- 25 are Regents charter schools
- 2 are Buffalo Board of Education charter schools
Who can approve charter school applications?
In New York State, those entities which are authorized to approve charter applications are known as “chartering entities.” They are:
- the Board of Regents,
- the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY), and
- any local board of education (in NYC it is the Chancellor of the NYC DOE). (To date, the NYC DOE and the Buffalo Board of Education are the only local boards of education that have approved charter school applications).
The Board of Regents is the only entity that can actually issue a charter once an application is approved.
What factors does a chartering entity examine when deciding whether to approve a charter school application?
The chartering entity reviews the application to assess whether:
- the applicant is able to operate the school in an educationally and fiscally sound manner;
- granting the application will likely improve student learning and advance the purposes of the Charter School Law, as described above; and
- all legal requirements of the charter school law are met.
What information should be contained in the application to aid the chartering entity in its decision?
The law requires that a proposed charter application must include, but is not limited to:
- name of the proposed charter school and a mission statement;
- governance structure and code of ethics for the trustees, officers, and employees;
- number of students to be served, expected ages, and grade levels served;
- curriculum and description of student achievement goals;
- methods for serving students with disabilities;
- the educational program for students with limited English proficiency;
- methods for attracting and maintaining enrollment of students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency;
- admissions policies and procedures
- student discipline rules and procedures;
- description of health and food services;
- school calendar and school day schedule;
- evidence of adequate community support sufficient to allow the school to reach its anticipated enrollment;
- proposed budget and fiscal plan;
- an assessment of the projected programmatic and fiscal impact on other schools in the area, and
- procedures for closure or dissolution of the charter school.
What is the role of the Board of Regents concerning charter proposals that are submitted to the Regents as the chartering entity?
As previously mentioned, applicants can submit charter schools applications to any of the chartering entities authorized by law:
- the Board of Regents,
- the SUNY Board of Trustees, or
- a local school district,
For those applications submitted directly to the Board of Regents as the chartering entity, the Regents can approve the application or deny it. If denied, the charter does not take effect. An applicant can resubmit the application to the Board of Regents, submit the application to another chartering entity or abandon the proposal.
What is the role of the Board of Regents concerning proposed charters from another charter entity?
Charter proposals that have been approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees or a local board of education must still come to the Board of Regents for action.
1. For all charter proposals from other chartering entities:
The law requires that the Board of Regents take action on a proposed charter submitted by another charter entity within 90 days of its submission. The Board of Regents has two options for action:
- approve the proposed charter as submitted by the charter entity, or
- return it, unapproved, to the charter entity with comments and recommendations.
If the Board of Regents does not act within 90 days, the proposed charter is deemed to have been approved and issued by operation of law.
If a proposed charter is returned to the charter entity with comments and recommendations, the charter entity may:
- resubmit the proposed charter to the Board of Regents without modification;
- resubmit the proposed charter with modifications agreed to by the applicant, or
- abandon the proposed charter.
2. For charter proposals from SUNY:
If SUNY resubmits the charter proposal (whether modified or not) the Board of Regents must act within 30 days of the resubmission.
The Board of Regents cannot return the proposed charter to SUNY a second time. The Board of Regents has two options for action at this point:
- approve and issue the proposed charter, or
- take no action and the resubmitted proposed charter is deemed approved by operation of law
By law, the resubmitted charter proposal will take effect regardless of whether or not the Regents vote to approve it.
See the attached flow-chart which illustrates the process for charter school applications from the SUNY Board of Trustees (Attachment 1).
3. For charter proposals from local boards of education:
If a local board of education resubmits a proposed charter to the Board of Regents, the Board of Regents must act within 90 days or it shall be deemed to have been approved and issued by operation of law.
The Board of Regents may:
- approve and issue the proposed charter, or
- again return the proposed charter to the charter entity for modification. There is no limit to the number of times the Board of Regents can return a resubmitted proposed charter to a charter entity other than SUNY.
By law, the charter school will not be created unless the Board of Regents approves the charter application.
Is a charter school subject to the same laws and regulations as other public schools?
No. The charter school is subject to the same health and safety, civil rights, and student assessment requirements as other public schools, but by law, is exempt from all other State and local laws, rules, regulations, or policies governing public or private schools other than the charter school statute.
May churches or religious denominations or groups start a charter school?
A charter school must be nonsectarian in its programs, admissions policies, employment practices and other operations and may not provide or allow the use of its funds or resources to support religious instruction.
Churches or religious denominations or groups may not control or direct a charter school. Involvement of churches or religious denominations or groups in the management and operation of the charter school is impermissible.
Individual members of the clergy or other religious leaders are not prohibited from serving on charter school boards of trustees merely because they are clergy, as long as the presence of clergy on the board of trustees does not place the charter school under the control of a religious denomination.
What is the 5% enrollment “rule”?
In 2007, the charter school law was amended to include a provision that says that if more than 5% of the students in the school district (total enrollment) attended charter schools (in any district) in the “base year” (the previous school year), a charter school application should not be approved unless either:
- the school district consents to the charter school application, or
- granting the application would have a “significant educational benefit” to the students expected to attend the proposed charter school. We assess “significant educational benefit” by looking at a combination of factors, including:
- the rigor of the proposed educational program, including but not limited to the length of the school day/year, the proposed pedagogy, and proposed methodologies;
- any evidence of the educational program's previous success in other charter schools;
- evidence that the curricula are aligned with the New York State Learning Standards;
- a review of the district's own educational success; and
- the degree of support and desire for the proposed charter school from parents in the community.
The 5% enrollment rule looks at enrollment in charter schools in the previous school year; it does not apply to the projected enrollment of the proposed charter school. For example if the Regents were considering a new charter school application in January 2009, the 5% enrollment rule would require consideration of whether 5% of the total school district enrollment in the previous school year (2007-08) attended charter schools. If so, then the new charter school application should not be approved unless the school district consents or there has been an assessment of significant educational benefit, as described above.
Should the fiscal impact be considered in approving a charter application?
As noted above, the statute requires that charter applicants must include in their application an assessment of the projected fiscal impact the proposed charter school will have on other schools in the area. The Regents have considered these assessments in deciding whether to approve an application.
In order to get a more complete picture of the projected fiscal impact of charter schools on school districts, the Regents requested that Department staff include, in every charter school item that is before them for action, information on the projected fiscal impact of all charter schools in a school district for each year of the next 5 year period.
While there is no statutory or regulatory “rule” on when fiscal impact becomes so significant as to require denial of an application, the Regents have considered factors such as fiscal condition of the district of location, financial stability of schools from which the proposed charter school will draw students, size of the proposed charter school, etc., in assessing fiscal impact
What are the statutory deadlines related to charter schools?
- Applications received by a charter entity (Board of Regents, SUNY, local boards of education) before July 1st must be acted on by the charter entity on or before January 1st of the next year.
- A new charter school must be formed no later than March 14th in order to begin operation in the next school year. (The law does not apply this deadline to charter schools whose charter entity is a local board of education for which there is no deadline for formation of a new charter school.)
- The Board of Regents must act on a proposed charter submitted by another charter entity within 90 days of its submission or it is deemed to have been approved and issued by operation of law.
- If a local board of education resubmits a proposed charter to the Board of Regents, the Board of Regents must act within 90 days or it shall be deemed to have been approved and issued by operation of law.
- If SUNY resubmits a charter proposal (whether modified or not) the Board of Regents must act within 30 days of the resubmission.
- The same statutory deadlines apply to proposals for charter revisions and charter renewals.
Please note: A significant challenge caused by the statutory deadlines described above and the scheduling of the meetings of the Board of Regents, is that the Regents may actually have less than the statutorily allowed period in which to act, if delaying consideration of a proposal to a subsequent month would exceed the applicable deadline. If the Regents do not take action on the charter proposals within the statutory deadlines, the law deems the proposals to be approved.
What are the requirements for public notification and comment?
- Within 30 days of receipt of a charter application, the charter entity must notify the proposed district of location of the proposed charter school and public and nonpublic schools in the same geographic area.
- Within 30 days of receiving notice of a charter school application, the district of location must hold a public hearing within the community potentially impacted by the charter school to solicit comments.
- The district of location must provide written confirmation to both the charter entity and SED that the hearing was held, along with the date and time of the hearing. It must also forward any written records or comments generated from the hearing to the charter entity within 15 business days of the hearing. The district of location also has the opportunity to comment to the charter entity.
- A charter entity should consider the comments raised when deciding whether to approve a charter application and submit the comments to the Board of Regents with the proposed charter.
What resources does the Department receive for charter school activities?
- The Department receives no State funds for charter school administration. By contrast, in 2008-09, SUNY received approximately $2.1 million in State funding for their charter school administration.
- In 2008-09 the Department is entitled to approximately $385,000 in Federal funds for charter school administration.
- In 2008-09 the costs to the Department for charter school administration are approximately $905,000. The Department has to use General Fund resources to offset the difference between the available resources we receive for this function ($385,000) and actual costs ($905,000) – which means that approximately $520,000 of the Department’s General Fund allocation is used to support the charter school function in the Department and these resources are not available for other functions.