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Colorado Charter Schools Frequently Asked Questions
Did you know?
- A charter school is a public school operated by a group of parents, teachers and/or community members
- A charter school operates under a charter (or contract) between the charter school and its authorizer, either a local school district or the Colorado Charter School Institute.
- A charter school is a semi-autonomous public school of choice; its local school district will not automatically assign students to the school.
- Parents must apply to charter schools if they choose to enroll their child(ren) in a charter school.
- A charter school generally has more flexibility than traditional public schools as regards curriculum, fiscal management, and overall school operations, and may offer an education program that is more innovative than traditional public schools.
- A charter school may request waivers from provisions of state law and any state or local rule, regulation, policy, or procedure relating to schools in the school district.
- A charter school has flexibility through waivers; however, in exchange for this flexibility, the charter school is bound by contract to be held accountable for meeting the performance-based objectives specified in the charter.
Who may apply for a charter?
Any person, or group of persons, may apply for a public charter school. The authorizer (a local school district or Charter School Institute) determines whether or not to approve a charter school application. If approved, a charter contract is executed by the authorizer and the governing board of the charter school. The charter school governing board may contract with an education management organization (EMO) for services; however, an EMO may not be party to a public charter school contract. Charter schools may organize as non-profits and may offer an online educational program. The Charter Schools Act prohibits private school conversion or a home-school charter.
How many charter schools are there and is there a limit on the number that can be approved?
The number of charters schools in the state of Colorado continues to grow, with just over 250 schools serving students in the 2018-2019 school year. There are no limits to the number of charter schools that can be opened in the state.
To whom is a charter school responsible?
A charter school is accountable to the families in the school, the local school district or Charter School Institute, and the state. The charter school authorizer sponsors the charter school and, through a contract, has outlined certain provisions the charter school is responsible to fulfill. Charter schools are also required to participate in the state-mandated assessment program (CMAS and PSAT/SAT). It is through these assessments that charter schools, along with all other public schools in the state, are measured. School Performance Frameworks (SPFs) are issued annually for public schools in the state including charter schools.
- View more information on a specific school
- View more information on assessments, including comparative data
If a parent has a concern with their child's school, where should that concern be directed?
The parent should begin by contacting the personnel within the charter school. If that does not satisfactorily address the issue, make the governing board of the charter school aware of the issue. If unresolved there, the next step would be to contact the organization that authorized the charter school, either the local district or the Charter School Institute. The Colorado Department of Education does not authorize charter schools nor oversee the operation of charter schools within the state.
What are the first steps to starting a charter school?
Begin by organizing a small group of people who share your vision for a new school. Find out if your school district has been granted exclusive chartering authority by going to our District & Authorizer Info page. If the district has retained exclusive chartering authority, contact them to find out who their charter liaison is. If the district has not retained exclusive chartering authority and you are interested in submitting an application, visit the Charter School Institute site directly. More information on how to start a charter school in Colorado can be found on the Start a CO Charter website.
What is the Charter School Institute?
In 2004 House Bill 04-1362 created the Charter School Institute (CSI). CSI has the authority to approve or deny charter school applications, monitor Institute charter school operations, and assist in conversion of a district charter school to an Institute charter school. CSI may authorize charter schools in districts that have not retained exclusive authority to authorize charter schools within their district. For a list of districts where the Colorado Charter School Institute may authorize a charter school, visit our District & Authorizer Info page, then click on "exclusive chartering authority."
When must applications be filed and to whom should they be submitted?
The Colorado Charter Schools Act allows the local school board to determine the date by which charter school applications must be admitted. The date shall be any day between August 15 and October 1 of that school year. Charter school law requires the local school board to rule on the charter application within 75 days. CSI must rule on applications within 60 days. Charter applicants will need to check with the appropriate school district or CSI for their application deadline.
Who will review the charter school application?
For charter applications submitted to a local school district, the Charter Schools Act [C.R.S. 22-30.5-107 (1.5)] requires the school district’s accountability committee to review charter school applications. The review team must include 1) a person with a demonstrated knowledge of charter schools and 2) a parent of a charter school student, or a parent of a public school student should there not be a charter school in that school district. The school district may also choose to have their various departments review the application. The school district board of education reviews the application prior to its decision to approve or deny the application.
The Charter School Institute board will review applications submitted to CSI. The board may solicit opinions concerning the application from staff or other qualified experts as they deem appropriate. The local school district in which the school will be located must be notified by the applicant that an application has been submitted. The local district board and the accountability committee of the district may submit written comment concerning the application for consideration by the CSI board.
If a charter school application is denied, can it be appealed?
Yes, a denied charter school applicant may appeal to the State Board of Education within 30 days of the vote. The state board then has 60 days to hear the appeal. If the state board remands the application back to the school district for further consideration, the local board has 30 days to reconsider the application. If at that time, the local board again denies the charter school, the applicant can appeal to the state board a second time. The state board’s decision at the second hearing is final.
For Charter School Institute schools, the applicant may also appeal to the State Board of Education within 30 days of the vote. The state board again has 60 days to hear the appeal. For CSI applicants, the initial decision of the State Board of Education is final and not subject to a second appeal.
Are charter schools accredited?
The State Board of Education accredits public school districts. School districts in turn accredit the schools that meet their district accreditation standards. Charter schools are subject to all accreditation requirements. Many districts and charter schools seek additional accreditation through independent organizations. For more information on these accrediting agencies, consult your local district or charter school.
Further, the State Board of Education accredits the Charter School Institute through a similar process. Institute charter schools are accredited through the Institute and subject to the Institute’s accreditation requirements.
How is a charter school funded?
Charter schools receive 100% of the Per Pupil Revenues (PPR) or money designated by the state Legislature each year for operating expenses, capital reserve and risk insurance. The charter school authorizer may retain up to 5% of documented central administrative costs associated with oversight of the charter school. A charter school may choose to purchase services from their authorizer or a third party.
Do schools receive startup funding?
Most charter schools apply for Colorado Charter School Grant funds for financial assistance with startup and implementation needs. Most, but not all, applications for startup grants receive funding. New charter schools are sometimes able to borrow funds from their authorizing school districts. In addition, there are a limited number of private grants for which charter schools may apply.
Are charter schools eligible for state funds for capital needs?
The Colorado Legislature has in recent years provided funds to charter schools for capital construction to be distributed on a per pupil basis as determined by the October 1 student count. It is important to note that the General Assembly changes the amount of capital construction funds annually.
Who provides transportation to a charter school?
Due to finances and the need to pay for facilities out of operating revenue, many charter schools do not provide bus transportation for students. Parents often organize car pools to provide transportation. Public transportation is used in some areas when it is available. Some charter schools do have agreements with their school district for bus service. Whenever this is done, the agreement is in the written charter/contract.
Do all charter schools file for non-profit status?
Charter schools are public schools by law and, therefore, are tax exempt. Charter schools also are allowed to form as non‐profit organizations, which most do. Filing Articles of Incorporation as a non‐profit organization is all that is required to obtain a separate tax identification number and establish the school as a non‐profit corporation.
In addition, most charter schools take the additional step of filing Form 1023 with the Internal Revenue Service to apply for a specific designation as a 501(c)(3) organization. This refers to a specific section of the Internal Revenue Code. Receiving an official designation as a 501(c)(3) organization does not change the tax exempt status of the charter school. It merely clarifies it for some entities, most notably charitable organizations and potential funders who require official 501(c)(3) documentation in order to give grants. Official recognition also may require the charter school to file informational tax returns (Form 990) annually.
There is not necessarily a best practice when it comes to choosing whether or not to file for 501(c)(3) designation. This is an important decision that should be made in consultation with the school’s attorney.
Do charter schools serve students with special needs?
Yes. The Charter Schools Act [C.R.S. 22-30.5-104 (3)] prohibits discrimination on the basis of need for special education services. As a public school, a charter school must comply with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and any state special education laws.
Are laws and regulations waived for charter schools?
The technical means by which charter schools operate is through receiving waivers from certain state statutes or rules. The State Board of Education has determined certain waivers may be automatically granted to charter schools. Local school districts or the Charter School Institute may seek additional waivers from state laws and regulations from the State Board of Education on behalf of the charter school they have authorized. After executing a charter/contract, an authorizer must file the approved contract, including waiver requests, with the State Board within 10 days. The State Board will act on the waiver application within 45 days. A charter school may also seek waivers from district policies from the local board of education. For more information on applying for waivers, visit the Charter Schools page of the CDE website and look under Technical Assistance.
May charter school students be required to take an entrance exam or be subject to other admission criteria?
No. The Charter Schools Act [C.R.S. 22-30.5-104 (3)] and State Board Rule, 1 CCR 301-88, Sections 2.02(D)&(E) prohibits discrimination based on academic ability. Diagnostic or placement exams may be given to students after they have been officially enrolled. As with all public schools, a charter school may create eligibility thresholds for enrollment that are consistent with their area of focus or grade levels, but the school’s methods for determining eligibility cannot be designed, intended, or used to discriminate on the basis of a child’s knowledge, skills, or disability. For instance, a charter high school may deny admission to a student not completing the 8th grade, but it cannot deny admission to a student who has an “unsatisfactory” score on state assessments.
Do charter school teachers need to have a license in order to teach?
No. Charter schools in Colorado may apply for a waiver from licensure laws so that they are able to employ teachers without a current Colorado license. For more information, please see CDE’s guidance here: [https://www.cde.state.co.us/cdechart/boardrule-autowaivers]. Check with each individual charter school for more information on that individual school’s requirements.
Are charter schools required to adopt state content standards and use state assessments?
Yes. The charter school application must include a description of the school’s educational program “that has been proven to be effective, pupil performance standards, measurable annual achievement goals that are based on the state accreditation indicators…” [C.R.S. 22-30.5-106 (e)]. Additionally, the State Board of Education will not grant waivers to the state-mandated assessment program (CSAP) or School Accountability Reports [C.R.S. 22-30.5-104 (6)] or any other accreditation requirements.
What questions should a parent ask a charter school representative before choosing to send their child to that school?
All charter schools are different, even if they use the same curriculum. Ask questions about the school’s educational program, leadership (governing board and administration), faculty, and policies. Most schools will provide a Parent/Student Handbook, which includes general information. As you learn more about specific charter schools, keep in mind your particular child. What type of educational approach best suits your child’s needs? Think about what you are looking for in a school (geographical proximity, a specific curriculum, or a particular focus). An additional resource for information on specific charter schools is available on SchoolView.
How do I find out how a particular charter school is doing?
All public schools, including charter schools, receive a School Accountability Report. Those reports are available at SchoolView.
How do I enroll my child in a charter school?
Contact the charter school and fill out an “Intent to Enroll” form for the school(s) you are interested in. This does not obligate you to enroll your child, but does include your child in any future lottery if the charter school uses a lottery system. Some charter schools enroll students on a “first-come, first-served” basis, and the “Intent to Enroll” form will put your child on a wait list. If your child is awarded a seat in the charter school by lottery or by wait list, you will be notified. Parents/guardians generally have a stated amount of time to officially enroll their child in the school or the seat is given to another student.