Charter schools are public schools that are allowed greater flexibility for greater accountability. For example, charter schools are not required to adhere to the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness standards set by the state of Oklahoma, but charters that do not meet performance standards may be closed by their sponsors. A charter school maintains its own board of governance in addition to being accountable to their sponsor (authorizer) that should advise and closely monitor charter school leadership. The Oklahoma Charter School Act lists seven (7) purposes for charter schools:
1. Improve student learning;
2. Increase learning opportunities for students;
3. Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;
4. Provide additional academic choices for parents and students;
5. Require the measurement of student learning and create different and innovative forms of measuring student learning;
6. Establish new forms of accountability for schools; and
7. Create new professional opportunities for teachers and administrators including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
The Oklahoma Charter School Act allows several avenues to charter sponsorship. Possible sponsors (authorizers) are listed below:
1. A school district or a technology center with average daily membership (ADM) of 5,000 in counties with more than 500,000 residents
2. A school district or a technology center with a school site in school improvement
3. A comprehensive or regional institution that is a member of The Oklahoma State System of Higher Education that has a teacher education program may sponsor a charter within districts with average daily membership (ADM) of 5,000 in counties with more than 500,000 residents
4. A comprehensive or regional institution that is a member of The Oklahoma State System of Higher Education that has a teacher education program may sponsor a charter within a school district with a school site in school improvement
5. A federally recognized Indian Tribe, if the charter is for the purpose of demonstrating native language immersion instruction, and is located within its former reservation or treaty area boundaries
6. The State Board of Education only when the applicant is the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) or when the charter has a contract with the OJA
To start a charter one must do the at least the following things:
• Attend a charter school training offered semiannually by the SDE (For information call (405) 522-8297)
• Complete a charter application with the minimum qualifications and any other qualifications as outlined by their potential sponsor (authorizer)
• Garner and be able to demonstrate community support
• Submit application to a sponsor (authorizer)
At a minimum, applications must include the following:
• Mission statement
• Description of organizational structure and governance
• Financial plan for the first three years/description of person responsible for finances
• Hiring policy
• Name(s) of the applicant(s)
• Facility and location description
• Description of the grades to be served
• Plan to measure instructional effectiveness
• Demonstration of support from area residents
• Documentation of charter school training
Eligible sponsors have 90 days to respond to each application. If an application is rejected, applicants may within 30 days submit a revised application, which must be answered within 30 days. If it is rejected a second time, applicants may seek mediation or binding arbitration.
Charter schools cannot "limit admission based on ethnicity, national origin, gender, income level, disabling condition, English proficiency, measures of achievement, aptitude, or athletic ability." They may enroll students whose legal residence is within the boundaries of the school district in which the school is located or who have transferred into the school district. Preference shall be given to resident students. If capacity is insufficient to enroll all interested eligible students, then charter schools must select students through a lottery.
Like any public school, charter schools receive state funding through the State Aid funding formula, set by law. Up to 5 percent of a school's allocation may be retained by its sponsor for administrative costs. Charter schools may receive additional funding through public aid, grants and other revenue as well as private sources, but the schools must be nonprofit. The Charter Schools Incentive Fund assists those interested in establishing charter schools. Applicants are eligible for up to $50,000 for start-up costs. Only charter schools with sponsor approval are eligible to apply.
Charters are accountable to their sponsors (authorizers). Charter school contracts can be approved for no longer than five years at a time, and must include criteria by which effectiveness of the school will be measured. Sponsors must give written notice and explanation of their intent to deny requests for renewal at least 8 months prior to expiration of contracts. However, if a charter school fails to meet the standards outlined in its contract, its sponsor may give only 90 days written notice of intent to terminate.
Charters are accountable to their boards. When charters are run well, their advisory or governance boards maintain high performance standards and take corrective action when needed. Every charter operation falls under their purview, from finances to teacher evaluation. Advisory boards must follow the Open Meetings Act.
Charters are accountable to the SDE. Like any other public school, charters must go through an accreditation process which is run through the Office of Accreditation at the SDE. This is to ensure that charters are compliant with all federal and state laws. Additionally, charters are graded on the A-F Report Card.