How to start a charter school in California, USA: 15 Best Steps

What are charter schools?

Before we talk about how to start a charter school in California, Charter schools are schools that are publicly funded but are however operated by independent groups.

The name comes from the word contract or charter which implies a group that operates a school.

The unique thing about charter schools is that they do not have to follow the same regulations from the states, school districts and municipalities as traditional public schools.

Before we go on to how to start a charter school in California, it is important to know that charter schools have more flexibility in terms of setting curriculum, school hours and rules.

For the fact that they are not bound by union contracts, they have enough leeway to hire and fire teachers as long as they meet the accountability standards.

Almost 15% of the charters who couldn’t meet the accountability standards have been closed.

For some time now, the number of charter schools in the united states is on the rise. According to statistics, 5% of public students now attend charter schools.

Charter schools are known to vary from state to state; interestingly some states do not have a charter school at all.

During Obama’s administration, charter schools were awarded billions of dollars in a competitive grant program to states with charter-friendly laws.

Just like most public traditional schools, charter schools can be effective or ineffective. It depends largely on the teachers, leadership and so many other factors.

But some have achieved notable success in helping low-income and minority students achieve high test scores and prepare for college. Read on to discover how to start a charter school in California.

Can charter schools charge tuition?

Charter schools are publicly funded by local, state, and federal tax dollars, similar to district schools.

Charter schools that meet the federal definition of a charter school may not charge tuition. Of course, you have to put that into consideration while thinking of how to start a charter school in California.

What is Charter School Programs (CSP)?

Charter School Programs (CSP) is a division of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

CSP oversees discretionary grants designed to support the creation, replication, and expansion of promising and high-quality charter schools and to disseminate information about charter school practices

How to start a charter school in California: who can start one?

State charter school law determines who can apply for a charter school. Generally, teachers and school leaders, parents, community leaders, and non-profit organizations can apply for a charter to one of their state’s charter authorizers.

Nearly all states require the charter governing board to operate as a nonprofit entity. The application process and requirements differ according to state charter laws and authorizer practices.

To learn more about how to start a charter school in California, we recommend you first contact your state’s charter support organization or the State Department of Education for help. Use our state resources page to help you find the appropriate organization to contact

Interest is growing among entrepreneurs, community leaders, education advocates, and charter organizations when it comes to starting charter schools in communities to give children higher quality education.

If you’re wondering how to start a charter school in California, here’s what you should know:

Steps on how to start a charter school in USA(California)

Charter schools are known for their ability to provide students with innovative approaches in terms of teaching and learning.

They provide parents with innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

 Not all states allow charter schools and those that do require that certain guidelines be met by the schools.

Learning how to start a charter school in your community can help give your children an alternative, cutting-edge option for education. Here are the steps:

Check the legality of Charter schools in your area

Each state is allowed to pass legislation to determine the legality of opening a charter school.

The very first step when checking how to start a charter school in California is to check the legality. Therefore since you want to start a charter school in California, you must ascertain whether charter schools are allowed to operate in California.

But from records, California is one of the states that allow charter schools.

Other states in the United States that do not allow charter schools include:

  • Kentucky
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Washington

Check the capacity limit

Having established if Charter schools can be run in the state or not, the next is to determine if there is a limit to the number of charter schools that can operate in the state.

Depending on where you live, you may be ineligible to open a charter school due to capacity limits, even if charter schools are generally allowed. It is an important factor to consider on how to start a charter school in California.

The following states do not have limits to the number of charter schools that can operate include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maryland etc

However, California is not on the list. Therefore, it is still possible that California may not have reached its capacity. Search online for charter school laws in California to see if you can start a charter school.

Determine if new schools are allowed

Having checked the capacity limit, next is to check the number of charter schools that are allowed in California.

some states have laws that set limits on the types of charter schools allowed.

That means that there may be restrictions on new start-up schools, public school conversions, and/or virtual schools.

Interestingly, California is one of the states that allow for a variety of public charter school types.

Having taken care of the three steps above, the next on how to start a charter school in California is :

Assess your level of commitment

Wondering what role this will play on how to start a charter school in California? Starting a charter school might not be so easy. It is such that will take a lot of time and energy.

Before you actually begin the process of starting a charter school, you should decide whether or not you’ll be able to stick with the project, attend meetings, and work with other people to bring your vision to life.

There might be a need to put up a team that will assist you in order to have your charter school come alive.

Think about the set of skills you’ll need to pull everything together: real estate experience, financial expertise, operations/management skills, leadership abilities, and educational instructors.

However, be sure that you are ready to work with a group before thinking about starting.

You equally need to have in mind that it is a process that will take time.  You’ll also need time to build a new facility or modify an existing one, depending on where you decide to open your charter school.

Will you still have the same passion and patience for this project in a year (or longer)?

Come up with a unique concept

Your main aim to start charter school should be to provide things that are not currently on the ground in terms of educational opportunities.

Think about the aspects that are missing from the current public schools and then plan on how to incorporate those things in your current charter school.

Think about what can be done differently while sticking to the state’s standards.

For instance, One successful charter school concept in an area with a large population of Chinese families was to incorporate Mandarin Chinese language lessons into the curriculum.

You can see that coming up with a unique concept is necessary on how to start a charter school in California.

Have you written your mission statement?

You’ll need to be able to outline your vision to your state’s Department of Education (or equivalent), so work on creating a clear, pragmatic mission and purpose.

Your statement has to be clear and concise. You will need to state the school’s administrative decisions, its mission and core values.

Start brainstorming a list of defining characteristics, and use these to generate the basic components of your mission statement.

Establish your governance

There will be a need for a board of governance, This is a vital part of any successful charter school, as approximately 27% of all new charter schools were disrupted by internal conflicts within the board.

Therefore you need to be careful about who you are selecting to be a part of your board.

They must understand and agree with the mission you have outlined, and ensure that their values and beliefs align with yours.

Some important areas of expertise to try to incorporate in your board include finance/accounting, real estate, facilities management, legal services, human resource services, fundraising and marketing, community partnerships, and academic programming.

You know your weaknesses, ensure you include someone who can be your strength in that aspect.

Don’t forget that the role of the board is to govern your charter school, and not manage it.

Governance involves creating goals for the school, setting metrics to measure the school’s process, evaluate the school, approve the budget, create policies, engage in fundraising, and enforce local and state charter laws.

Set your budget

There is a need to set a budget. The governing body has to have a say in determining the budget.

Keep your mission statement in mind as you develop your budget. Are you holding your future students’ best interests in mind at all times?

You can work with an accountant or a financial planner to develop a good budget proposal for your first year of operation.

Have your board review and approve the budget and projections you develop on an annual basis

what are the costs involved in opening a charter school?

There are a lot of factors that determine how much a charter school can cost. You have to consider the land, the size of the complex together with the number of your staff.

For instance, if you anticipate 140 students, you may need a building as large as 20,000 feet. Getting an architect to design such a structure from the ground up may cost as much as two million dollars.

A small staff comprised of seven standard teachers, one special education teacher, three teacher’s aides, a librarian, and a principal will cost a little over $700,000 per year depending on their salaries. 

You might need to buy a stock of medical supplies, hardware supplies, toiletries which may cost well over $20,000.

Stocking a small library with 20,000 books may cost nearly $120,000, and getting the relevant shelving you’ll need may cost $5,000.

Purchasing computers for the school can cost over $37,000, and furniture (ranging from the standard desks and tables to examination tables and gym wall pads) can easily cost $25,000.

Larger appliances such as refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, and food bars will cost $13,000 or more.

Your primary ongoing expenses include your monthly loan payment for the school, your teacher’s salaries (using our staff estimates above, you would be paying about $60,714 a month), supply costs (whose cost will vary based on needs but are likely to be $2,000 a month or more), and utilities (which will also be about $2,000 a month or more)

Choose a location

Having taken care of costs and your budget in general, you have to choose a location.

Take note of the area where you want to build your charter school. Situating your charter school in the wrong area can break tour charter’s chances of success.

Finding and securing a facility for a charter school often requires some degree of compromise and innovation.

Try to search for facilities within a central location that will be convenient enough for your prospective students.

Don’t put a downpayment on any property until you know that your charter application is accepted.

But that doesn’t mean don’t think about it at all yet – in fact, having a potential place lined up might help strengthen your application.

Set up your business plan

This business plan has to include your vision and mission for the school. The school’s curriculum and hiring practices are necessary also.

It can be very helpful to speak with other charter schools, both in your region and across the country.

The board members at these established charter schools can help guide you with their own experience and may be able to offer suggestions on how to start a charter school in California which you would not have considered.

Above all, you have to consider the legal requirements and the functional practices of successful charter schools.

Some of this information can be found online.

Visit your state’s Department of Education

Charter school laws vary from one state to another, therefore it is important you know the specific guidelines, regulations and deadlines.

There is no single compendium, unfortunately, so you’ll need to learn about the particular forms, applications, and deadlines required in your state.

You can search online for your state’s Department of Education website, or you can search for your state’s charter school application process.

Pay close attention to all relevant deadlines, as these will most likely be unique to charter schools in your state.

Familiarize yourself and your board with all aspects of your state’s charter school legislation. 

Submit a letter of intent

There are guidelines to writing a letter of intent.

You may need to submit your materials to your local school district, your state’s Department of Education, or to your state’s Charter School Office (if such an office exists in your state).

Your charter school letter of intent should include but not be limited to the following:

  • The application info.
  • The board of directors
  • The name of the proposed charter school
  • The chosen location
  • The estimated enrollment
  • Partnering organizations
  • The mission statement
  • The target population

Wait for approval and then enroll

Once you have submitted the materials, you will have to wait for a little for authorization.

Most charter schools are authorized by the local school district, but if the school district denies your application you can appeal that decision to the county, and then to the state.

Once approved, you can then hire teachers, administrators, and facility managers. You may want to consider alumni of alternative teaching programs like Teach for America or turn to online job listings.

Once you’ve been approved for operations and you’ve hired a strong faculty and staff, you’re ready to open for enrollment.

Remember that you may be bound to certain class size restrictions and other regulations, and always keep your charter school’s mission statement at the forefront of all operations.

Frequently Asked Questions on how to start a charter school in California

Who is your charter school target?

While almost anyone can make a great charter school student, the target market is typically upper-middle-class or wealthy parents who want to offer their child the best preparation possible for higher education.

How can I make money from a charter school?

Most charter schools make money from the public funds of their state. They receive funds from their state as well as grants, subsidies.

They equally have access to various federal programs.

In terms of profit, the executives overseeing charter schools receive a portion of money per student enrolled.

Note that your charter school must abide by state laws which can dictate whether your business can legally be for-profit or if it must be a non-profit, although the latter can still yield substantial income.

How much can a charter school make?

To be profitable, charter schools must plan to expand the school, secure more donations from parents and various wealthy patrons.

The more students you have, the more profit. It may be worth hiring an individual or team whose primary job is securing donations, grants, and other types of funding for your school.

Do charter schools charge tuition?

No, they don’t.

Do charter schools have admission requirements?

No, charter schools do not have admission requirements or entrance exams.

Though many charter schools are in high demand and when that demand exceeds the spaces available in the school, a charter school may hold a randomized, blind lottery to determine which students are admitted or may preference students by need or location.

How can I work at a Charter school?

Check out these charter school jobs.

See also: How to start a boutique in Texas,USA:7 Top Facts you must know

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