Monday, June 7, 2010

Charter School Autonomy, Part Two

This is a continuation of my comment on the Fordham report, "Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise."

6. Law/Policy Waivers: Generally, Colorado's Charter Schools Act is favorable to charter schools. It typically earns a B from the Center for Education Reform. The State Board of Education allows for the automatic waiver of 13 state laws and more, upon request. The new sample contract language suggests districts provide a list of district policies that either do not apply to charter schools or could be waived to make the process easier.

7. Budget: The law specifically allows a charter school board to establish their own budget and have control over their finances. Charter schools cannot waive finance laws that pertain to all public schools.

8. Discipline Policies: Many charter schools have sought, and received, waiver from Suspension and Expulsion laws and even Truancy laws. These waivers allow the charter school board the authority that otherwise would rest with the local board of education. CSI requires all of its schools to do their own discipline.

9. Management Contracting: The new sample contract language has an appendix called, "ESP Provisions", which are a list of provisions that should be in the management contract. The authorizer isn't party to that contract, but does often express an interest in what the contract states. Many authorizers require both the charter school governing board and the management company to have separate legal counsels.

10. Staff Dismissals: All charter schools in Colorado employ at-will. This means that the employee relationship can be severed with or without cause at any time. Charter school administrators are careful to not enter into a performance plan with an under-performing employee that would alter the at-will nature of employment.

11. Program/Curriculum: The state law is very clear that a charter school has control over their educational program. The charter school application details how the school will be operated and what the curricula will be. Some charter schools use a packaged curriculum and others create their own from a variety of sources.

12. Procurement: Almost all charter schools in the state have their money in a bank not associated with their authorizer. At least one school district requires their charter schools to keep all their funds in district accounts. Charter schools get their funding monthly or quarterly, according to their contract. Charter schools must adhere to procurement laws, although they don't have to do it through their district (unless their district requires it). Many charter schools consider the League of Charter Schools' group purchasing arrangements in their research.

13. School Scheduling: Again, this is an area that totally up to the charter school operators. It's often reinforced in the charter contract and/or through a delegation waiver of the school calendar law.

14. Work Rules: While Colorado's charter schools use at-will employees, many other states do not. In some states the charter school must participate in the district's collective bargaining agreement. This is an area where Colorado's law has always been solid.

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