What Are Charter Schools?

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently operated schools. Though long-held debates and outcries from both supporters and opponents of charter schools persist since Minnesota passed the first charter school law in 1991, they continue to grow in number in the U.S.

At the end of the 2017-2018 school year, the National Center for Education Statistics counted roughly 7,400 charter schools. In addition, more than 3.3 million students attend charter schools, meaning millions of parents exercised their school choice right.

Idealists and visionaries lead charter schools. Many of these leaders are mavericks who dare to think of new paradigms of education. Naturally, this tends to ruffle feathers. But people who debate the virtues of charter and district schools often lose sight of the degree to which both can coexist and the degree to which charter schools complement district schools.

Another great benefit of the coexistence of charter and district schools is that educational models can be tried on a smaller scale in charter schools and, if proven successful, implemented on a broader scale in district schools.

Charter schools offer students and parents access to distinctive education models that they can’t find in the average traditional public school.

District schools must adhere to very homogenous guidelines. Charter schools can think – and act – outside the box. This allows a charter school to have a specific focus on a language, the arts, STEM, or some other particular aspect of education. Having such schools in a neighborhood gives parents more choices. Ultimately, that’s what charter schools are about – giving parents more options in their children’s education.

This is what makes charter schools so unique: they are granted the flexibility to set their own school rules, curriculum, and more. In addition, groups or organizations are given a charter or legislative contract that enables them to launch their innovative schools in exchange for meeting accountability standards.

History of Charter Schools in New York

New York is one of 44 states that has passed charter school legislation, and in the 2020-2021 school year, New York charter schools served over 150,000 students. In a state where approximately two in ten children live in poverty, public charter schools are believed to be students’ best shot at making a better future for themselves.

New York became the 34th state to welcome charter schools in 1998, after the passing of the New York Charter Schools Act. When the law was first enacted, there was a limit of 100 charter new schools and no limit on the number of public schools that could convert to charter schools. Since then, the cap at 100 charter schools has increased to 460.

In 1999, two charter schools in New York City and one in Albany opened their doors to students. Over the years, many more charter schools have opened their doors to New York students. Still, success doesn’t come without a fair share of challenges.

Challenges for Charter Schools in New York State

New York charter schools face challenges that charter schools around the country share. So if you’re interested in starting a charter school in New York, you’ll want to be prepared to tackle these common challenges:

  1. Finding school facilities.
    Securing school buildings is a costly task for charter schools, and in New York City especially, the number of adequate, affordable buildings is slim. Moreover, securing the proper facilities takes time and money—two resources charter schools often lack.
  2. Lengthy application processes.
    The application process is rigorous and requires ample planning and details that deter some charter school startups from even starting. Applicants are expected to have educational, organizational, and financial plans in order when applying to authorizers. Charter school startups should also have evidence to prove that the founding group can operate the school effectively.
  3. Lack of resources.
    Although charter schools are publicly funded, they often receive less funding compared to traditional public schools. Running a charter just like any other school requires funding to provide students with an adequate education. Charter schools in New York are left with no choice but to find federal or foundational grants.

Authorizers of Charter Schools in New York

Before you begin the process to start a charter school in New York, you’ll want to know which authorizer you’d like to apply through. According to SUNY Charter School Institute, authorizers are in charge of approving charter school applications, providing oversight of approved schools, evaluating school’s charter renewal applications, and updating the public with each school’s progress.

New York has three authorizers: the State Education Department (NYSED), the State University of New York (SUNY), and the NYC Department of Education. Each authorizer has its specific application process and timeline, so it’s essential to decide which one you want to work with early.

Steps for Starting a Charter School in New York

Are you ready to start your own charter school in New York? If the answer is yes, here’s how you can get started:

  1. Decide which authorizer you and your team would like to work with on your school.
    Remember, there are three different authorizers in New York. Do your research to find the right fit.
  2. Submit a Letter of Intent to the authorizer of your choice.
    Authorizers will put forth a Request for Proposals (RFP), and you must respond with your letter of intent. Then, if approved, they’ll invite you back to submit a thorough proposal.
  3. Complete the Capacity interview.
    Capacity interviews allow authorizers to “ask clarifying questions” to the founding group about their application. If you nail that, you’re one step away from getting approval.
  4. Receive approval from a Board of Regents.
    Once your charter has been issued, you’re free to start implementing your next steps, such as hiring and opening enrollment.

Examples of Successful Charter Schools in New York

Though New York may have been slow to introduce charter schools into its public school system, many of the state’s charter schools are performing off the charts. For example, Success Academy Charter Schools have certainly lived up to its name. The charter school network operates 45 schools in New York City, and 20 of their schools ranked on a list of 30 highest-performing elementary schools in the state for the 2018-2019 school year. That’s pretty impressive for a single charter school network.

In Yonkers, NY, the Charter School of Educational Excellence has seen continued success. Test scores reveal that CSEE students outperform traditional public school students on ELA and math exams. The charter school is doing so well that it’s in the process of expanding its campus and adding a high school.

In Bronx, NY, the Equality High School highly focuses on academic achievement for its students who predominantly enter the school with low math and reading proficiency. Even with those headwinds, ECS brings its students up to proficiency by their senior year, and the school has an overall graduation rate of 85 percent.

Charter schools in New York aim to reach and educate students in innovative ways that ensure academic success. You can join the lineup of successful New York charter schools by taking the proper steps to establish long-term success for your school.

Ensuring Long-Term Success for Your Charter School in New York

Operating a successful charter school calls for preparedness. Do you want your charter school to be around for a long time? Here are the best practices observed at high-performing charter schools in the country:

  1. Create a mission statement that embodies academic success.
    The best charter schools have a clear mission statement that emphasizes academic success and personal development for students. Your mission statement should be easy to follow and understand.
  2. Integrate the mission across school programming.
    Thriving charter schools don’t only have excellent mission statements, but they embody them. To be an effective charter school, the mission must be implemented in the school’s curriculum, its hiring practices, and more.
  3. Encourage a supportive environment at the school.
    A common trait of successful charter schools is cultivating a community around and caring for their students. Therefore, it’s essential to meet each student where they are and create systems to help get students back on track.
  4. Engage parents and caregivers in the students’ education.
    Did you know that students with involved parents are more likely to have higher grades and test scores regardless of a student’s income or background? In addition, partnering with parents to develop education strategies and be involved in their child’s overall school experience has proved to be a best practice for many successful charter schools.
  5. Invest in enrollment marketing.
    Successful charter schools need successful students, so prioritize enrollment marketing for N.Y. charter schools. In addition, don’t be afraid to launch social media campaigns, email newsletters, and digital ads to reach your future students.

Finding a Building for your New York Charter School

You’ve got your mission statement and everything else to start your charter school, but what about your building? Finding facilities for New York charter schools is a complex, costly task, and funding charter schools in New York can be a challenge. However, New York has passed state law to provide some relief for unhoused charter schools.

In New York City, charter schools often share buildings with other non-charter public schools or are given free public buildings to use. But charter schools have to request rental assistance from the Department of Education when facilities aren’t available. Relying on rental aid isn’t the first option for most charter schools, so securing proper funding is essential for charter school startups. Providing facilities financing is one of our areas of expertise.

Do You See Yourself as a New York Charter School Leader?

Starting and operating a charter school in New York can be challenging and can also be extremely rewarding. However, once you make it past the initial startup hurdle, you can create a brighter and more innovative future for thousands of students.

So, are you ready to join the ranks of maverick educators at the vanguard of education? Get the chance to make a difference in students’ lives by starting your charter school in New York.

Securing funding for charter schools in New York can be daunting. Fortunately, Charter School Capital is ready to help you secure a facility and plant your successful charter school. Learn how we can help here.

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Since the company’s inception in 2006, Charter School Capital has been committed to the success of charter schools. We help schools access, leverage, and sustain the resources charter schools need to thrive, allowing them to focus on what matters most – educating students. Our depth of experience working with charter school leaders and our knowledge of how to address charter school financial and operational needs have allowed us to provide over $1.8 billion in support of 600 charter schools that have educated over 1,027,000 students across the country. For more information on how we can support your charter school, contact us. We’d love to work with you!

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