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 Frequently Asked Questions for New Petitioners


Qualifications for Opening a Charter School

Who can start a charter school in Georgia?
Existing local schools, local board(s) of education, private individuals, private organizations, and state and local public entities may organize a charter public school, except that a charter petitioner for a local charter school shall be a party other than the local board of education. A charter school is subject to a performance-based contract approved by both the state and local board(s) of education, by the State Board of Education alone, or by the State Charter Schools Commission.
Who cannot start a charter school in Georgia?
The term "charter petitioner" does not include home study programs or schools, sectarian schools, religious schools, private for-profit schools, private educational institutions not established, operated, or governed by the State of Georgia, or existing private schools. A charter petitioner cannot become a party to the charter contract unless the petitioner is a Georgia nonprofit corporation.

The Petition Process

How do I start a charter school?
An application, commonly referred to as a petition, must be submitted to and approved by a local authorizer. After approval by a local authorizer, the petition must be submitted to the District Flexibility and Charter Schools Division (“Charter Schools Division”) at the Georgia Department of Education. Petitions will then be subject to an evaluation process and will ultimately be approved or denied by the State Board of Education.
What happens if my local authorizer does not approve my petition?
Upon denial by a local authorizer, applicants may submit their petitions to the State Board of Education or to the State Charter Schools Commission (SCSC). Petitions approved by the State Board of Education alone, known as state-chartered special schools, receive only state funding. Petitions approved by the State Charter Schools Commission alone, known as state charter schools, receive only state funding and operate as their own Local Education Agency.
Applicants that have submitted a petition to their local authorizer and have not received an approval or denial, but still wish to be considered by the State Charter Schools Commission, must submit an identical copy of the petition to the SCSC by the SCSC deadline. Please consult the State Charter Schools Commission website at http://scsc.georgia.gov/ for more details regarding the Commission and its petition process.
What does the evaluation process by the State Board of Education entail?
When a petition has been received by the Georgia Department of Education, it is first read and evaluated by qualified reviewers at the Department. These reviewers evaluate the petition for legal compliance and the overall capacity of the petitioner to develop, launch, and sustain operation of a high-quality charter school. Second, petitioners are invited to participate in a formal interview. Third, based on the initial petition review and the formal interview, the Charter Schools Division issues a letter that assigns the petitioner to one of four groups:
1.    Rejection Group: The petition is flawed in some way that is irreparable and will be rejected for the current petition review cycle. Petitioners in this category are free to submit a new petition during the following school year’s petition review cycle.
2.    Revision Group: The petition demonstrates minimum quality and compliance or less, and would require substantial and material revisions before a charter can be approved by the State Board of Education. Petitioners in this category must first be newly approved by the local board of education before re-submission. Petitioners will have only one opportunity to revise their petition; those that fail to make the required revisions will have to wait to submit a new petition during the following school year’s petition review cycle.
3.    Clarification Group: The petition demonstrates moderate quality and compliance or better, but require clarification and supplemental information to be submitted before we can determine whether a charter contract approval recommendation can be made to the State Board of Education. Petitioners will have only one opportunity to provide the required clarification(s) and/or supplemental information; those that fail to provide this information will have to wait to submit a new petition during the following school year’s petition review cycle
4.    Approval Group: The petition demonstrates near-perfect quality and compliance. The Department will issue a charter contract approval recommendation to the State Board of Education without any further action on the part of the petitioner.
Finally, the revised petition is reviewed and the Charter Schools Division makes a recommendation of either approval or denial to the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education receives the petition as an Item for Information at its monthly meeting, then as an Action Item the following month.
What happens if I decide to revise my petition?
Petitioners who chose to revise their petition must have their local authorizer reapprove the revised petition. Revised petitions must undergo another review by the Charter Schools Division.
What happens if my petition is approved?
The State Board of Education does not approve petitions. The State Board of Education approves a contract that the Charter Schools Division drafts that encompasses elements of the petition. The charter contract is a legally binding document between the following parties: the petitioner, the local authorizer, and the State Board of Education. Until the Charter Schools Division receives an executed contract with all appropriate signatures, the petitioner may not legally open their charter school.
What happens if my petition is denied?
If the State Board of Education denies a petition, they have 60 days to provide the petitioner with the reasons for their denial. Denied petitioners are encouraged to think critically about the reasons for denial, revise their petition accordingly, and resubmit the following year.
Must I apply to the local board first, or may I apply directly to the State Board of Education (SBOE)?
Petitioners are required to first submit a petition to the local board(s) of education and provide a copy of the petition to the Georgia Department of Education within 30 days of submission to the local board(s). The Department may not act on the petition until a decision has been rendered by the local board(s).  
What if my school proposes to serve multiple counties/districts?
Petitioners who desire to serve students living in an area that includes more than one county or city school system must submit either a jointly-approved petition -- which is approved by the local board of education in each county and/or district your school wants to serve -- or submit a petition approved by the county or city school system in which the charter school will be physically located (the school's home district) and include a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the home school district and each county and/or district your school wants to serve regarding how they will share money and resources for students that live outside the school's home district.

The Petition

Where can I get an application to start a charter school?
There is no "charter application" in the sense of a fill-in-the-blank form. The charter petition itself is the application. Guidance, cover sheets for required signatures, and checklists are available on the Georgia Department of Education Charter Schools website at http://www.gadoe.org/External-Affairs-and-Policy/Charter-Schools/Pages/Charter-Petition-Application.aspx.
What are the additional requirements for conversion charter school petitions?
A conversion charter school petition must be agreed to by a majority of the faculty and instructional staff members and a majority of parent or guardians of students enrolled in the petitioning local school before the petition is presented to the local board for approval.
What must be included when I submit my completed petition?
Three hard copies and one electronic copy of the petition must be submitted to the Georgia Department of Education. The petition must include properly completed cover sheets and checklists, and the petition and appendices must be clearly marked by alphabetical or numerical tabbed dividers. The Georgia Department of Education reserves the right to not accept incomplete submissions.

Petition Deadlines

When is the Letter of Intent due?
All petitioners – including start-ups, conversions, renewals, and state-chartered special schools – who intend to submit a charter petition for local board of education consideration must submit a Letter of Intent to both the Georgia Department of Education and to the appropriate local board(s) at least 6 months prior to the date the petition will be submitted to the Georgia Department of Education.
When are petitions due to the State Department of Education office?
The Georgia Department of Education does not have a deadline to submit charter petitions. All petitions are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Grants

Are grants available for planning and implementing a charter school?
Planning and Implementation Grants are available through the State Department of Education via the Federal Public Charter Schools Program. The grants are competitive and limited to the availability of funds. Charter petitioners are eligible to apply for these grants once a charter has been approved by the State Board of Education. Absent extraordinary circumstances, implementation grants are limited to the amounts outlined in the application. The Georgia Department of Education is not currently granting planning and implementation grants. Please consult the U.S. Department of Education’s website at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oii/csp/index.html for more information regarding the Federal Charter Schools Program.

Rules and Regulations Governing Charter Schools

Which state laws and State Board of Education rules MAY be waived by a charter school?
A charter school may waive most state laws and State Board of Education rules, with the exception of those listed below.
Which state and federal laws and State Board of Education rules MAY NOT be waived by a charter school?
Charter schools cannot waive any federal, state, and local rules, regulations, court orders, and statutes relating to civil rights; insurance; the protection of the physical health and safety of school students, employees, and visitors; conflicting interest transactions; the prevention of unlawful conduct; reporting requirements; funding formulas; or accountability requirements. Federal laws that cannot be waived include the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and all applicable civil rights legislation.
Are charter schools subject to “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) and other accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind?
Yes, these accountability requirements are known as the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) and Beating the Odds (BTO).
May a charter school focus on a special population of students?
Provided that a school adheres to the laws regarding open admissions, a charter school may, through its educational focus, target a particular population of students with a specific need, such as students with disabilities, English language learners, or students at risk for dropping out of school. Petitioners considering such a model are advised to take the necessary precautions and to work closely with their authorizer to ensure compliance with state and federal laws.

Non-Profit Status

Are start-up charter schools required to organize and operate as a non-profit organization?
Yes.
Are conversion charter schools required to organize and operate as a non-profit organization?
Yes.

Teacher & Staff Qualifications, Certification, and Compensation

Must teachers in charter schools be certified?
State certification requirements are one of the provisions that charter schools are permitted to waive if they so choose. Charter schools have the broad flexibility allowed under the Charter Schools Act to exercise this option. However, charter schools must comply with federal requirements for “highly qualified” teachers under Title IIA of No Child Left Behind. The certification levels of proposed teachers may be considered by the local and state authorizers when evaluating the petition.
What qualifications do charter school paraprofessionals have to meet?
At a minimum, paraprofessionals must pass a criminal background check and are subject to the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind act.
Are teachers employed by a charter school paid according to Georgia’s Salary Schedule?
The charter petition defines the salary schedule for certified teachers. The salary schedule may or may not be the Georgia Annual/Monthly Teacher & Administrator Salary Schedule for teachers. Conversion charter schools often continue to name the local board of education as the employer with no change to benefits and the salary schedule.
Do teachers participate in the Georgia Teacher Retirement System (TRS)?
Teachers at charter schools are required to be members of the Teachers Retirement System.

Budget

How specific should the petition budget be?
The budget included in the charter petition should be as specific as possible to ensure the maximum amount of transparency. Local boards of education must provide to charter schools, for inclusion in the charter petition and contract, the base per-pupil amount that the school will receive upon execution of the charter contract as long as the school system receives state and local revenues upon which the approved school budget is based. Petitioners should include average teacher salaries and conservative revenue projections. Competitive grants should be purged from the petition budget. The petitioner must also make sure that charitable contributions have been reasonably assured before adding them to the budget projections.  
Can the Charter Schools Division provide me with examples of good budgets?
Past petitions are posted on the charter website for the public to view. This is a good opportunity to learn from former petitioners.

Educational Program and Academic Goals

How do I know if the academic and performance-based goals in my petition are rigorous?
Petitioners will be asked to present the charter school’s performance objectives for the proposed charter term using required College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) and Beating the Odds (BTO) goals as the basis for planning those objectives. These CCRPI and BTO goals will be part of the charter contract. Petitioners should do their research in order to establish rigorous and appropriate academic goals and objectives. Petitioners should become familiar with the academic performance of other schools in their area, as well as the academic goals of successful schools, in order to determine that they are setting goals that will raise student achievement.
What are SMART goals?
Academic goals and objectives presented in the petition should be specific, measureable, attainable, rigorous, and timely. Petition reviewers will be looking for goals and objectives that meet these criteria.
Where can I find information about serving special populations of students, such as English language learners, students with disabilities, and gifted students?
Charter schools, as public schools, must serve all students, including populations with unique needs, such as English language learners, students with disabilities, and gifted students. A successful petition demonstrates that the petitioners are capable of adequately and appropriately serving these populations. Petitioners should research state and federal requirements regarding the identification, service, and assessment of special student populations. Resources include the Georgia Department of Education’s website and the United States Department of Education website. The Georgia Department of Education also provides training opportunities with regard to serving special student populations. Please consult the Georgia Department of Education’s website at www.gadoe.org for more information.

Charters

What is the duration of a charter?
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. Section 20-2-2067.1(b), the State Board of Education typically grants 5-year charters. At the request of the petitioner, this term may be shorter. Charter terms may not exceed 10 years.
May a charter be amended?
Yes, a charter contract may be amended pursuant to O.C.G.A. Section 20-2-2067.1. Prior to submitting a charter amendment, charter schools must first contact the Charter Schools Division to determine if an amendment is necessary or if an administrative clarification is appropriate. The charter amendment process is reserved for major changes to a charter’s terms and conditions. The administrative clarification process is appropriate for certain changes that are not substantial enough to require a formal amendment. Administrative clarifications may be approved by the Georgia Department of Education in appropriate cases. Any proposed amendment or administrative clarification must comply with the current State Board of Education Charter Schools Rule and related law to be considered for approval. If required, charter amendments must be agreed to and approved by all parties to the charter prior to implementation. Please note that charter schools may not submit a proposed amendment during the last six months of the charter term. 
When contacting the Charter Schools Division regarding a proposed change to a charter, please provide the following information:
1.    The specific charter provision(s) that the charter school seeks to change;
2.    The proposed change(s); and
3.    The rationale for seeking the change(s).
After considering this information, the Charter Schools Division will provide additional instruction regarding the required procedure for either the amendment or administrative clarification process. Amendments are subject to local and state board approval.
May a charter be terminated?
Yes, a charter contract may be terminated pursuant to O.C.G.A. Section 20-2-2068.
Under what circumstances can a charter be terminated?
A charter may be terminated under the following circumstances:
  1. A majority of parents guardians of enrolled students OR a majority of faculty and instructional staff vote to request that the State Board of Education terminate the charter.
  2. The State Board of Education finds that a school has failed to comply with any recommendation or direction of the state board, has failed to adhere to terms of its charter, has failed to comply with generally accepted standards of fiscal management, has violated applicable laws, or finds evidence that the continued operation of the school would be contrary to the best interests of the students or the community. Prior to commencing termination proceedings, the Georgia Department of Education or the local board(s) of education may place a charter school on probation if it has reason to believe that any of the above have occurred or is imminent.
  3. Upon the written request of a local board of education, provided that the local board provided reasonable notice to the school and an opportunity for a hearing.
Please consult O.C.G.A Section 20-2-2068 and State Board of Education Rule 160-4-9-.06 for more details regarding the termination of a charter and the probation process.

Additional Questions 

Whom can I contact if I did not find the answer to my question here?
Please contact the Charter Schools Division at (404) 657-0515 or jclarkedodd@doe.k12.ga.us.