I was in two different conversations today about how authorizers should review charter applications. Once an authorizer has determined they've received a complete charter application, it must be reviewed by a subcommittee of the District Accountability Committee and undergo two public hearings by the Board of Education. Many districts also choose to have their staff review the application. The Charter School Institute contracts with outside reviewers to score the application based on a rubric they provide.
Unless a school district has recent experience reviewing charter school applications they might not know what a "complete" application looks like, what a strong or weak application contains and what is within their purview as an authorizer.
For some time now authorizers have been asking for a statewide agreed-upon application process. This includes agreement on what type of charter application should be approved and some sort of "norming" of the process across districts and with the state Charter School Institute. In other words, that a charter application that's approved on the western slope would be comparable to a charter application approved in Colorado Springs 11.
Currently scant 13 page applications have been approved and comprehensive applications from experienced charter school founders and operators have been denied. Compounding this is the diversity of charter appeal hearings presented to the State Board of Education. Districts want to know what the State Board is looking for during an appeal hearing.
To standardize the process several different components should be examined:
* school district charter school policies for application review, renewal and exclusive chartering authority;
* what is a "complete" charter school application and if it's not, how should that be documented and communicated to the applicant;
* when the 75 day "clock" starts ticking on a complete charter school application;
* how can quality be consistent across school districts and charter school applications;
* when and how can an applicant submit new information during the review process, either on their own initiative or in response to questions from the authorizer; and
* what type of research basis is adequate to ensure the educational program has a fair chance of demonstrating academic achievement?
These and a host of other questions need to be considered by all the stakeholders involved in the charter school community. Many people, rightly, want to prevent the creation of a "box" for what type of charter school application will get approved. Several times there has been the applicant from a group of parents who can carry off the formation of a new charter school largely based on their sheer will and determination.
During this season when at least 75 charter school applications have been submitted across the state, it is a good time to have these discussions.