Charter schools frequently asked questions
July 17, 2009
The most commonly asked questions about Oregon's public charter school law are listed below, including general background, application process, student and employee questions.
General background questions
What is a charter school?
A charter school is a public school that receives public funds under a written agreement – a charter – that outlines student performance goals and educational services the public charter school will provide. Charters are excluded from many statutes and rules guiding traditional public schools.
In exchange for this freedom from regulation, the public charter school guarantees in its written agreement (charter) certain levels of student performance.
When does the law become effective?
Governor John Kitzhaber signed SB 100 and HB 2550 on May 27, 1999. The provisions of the law that allow public charter schools to be created became effective on Sept. 24, 1999.
Who can sponsor a public charter school?
The law allows for only two sponsors: a local school board or the state Board of Education. The state Board can only sponsor a public charter school if the application is denied by a school board.
Can a private or religious school convert to public charter school status?
No. This is specifically prohibited by the law.
Charter application process question
What should the charter proposal contain?
The proposal must include at least the following:
- Identification of the charter applicant
- Description of the curriculum
- Projected enrollment and the ages or grades to be served
- Address, facilities and physical location of school
- School’s proposed budget and financial plan
- Description of staff and teacher qualifications
- Name of the proposed school
- Description of the expected results of the curriculum
- Target student population the school will serve
- Description of admission policies and application procedures
- Standards of student behavior and procedures for student discipline, suspension or expulsion
- Date of beginning operation
- Description of the school’s philosophy and mission
- Governance structure
- Description of any distinctive learning or teaching techniques
- Statutes and rules that will apply to the school
- School calendar, including length of school day and year
- Arrangements for special education services
- Length of the charter
- How program review and fiscal audits will be conducted
- Plan for insurance or performance bonds
- Information on how community groups will be involved in planning and development
- Plan for what will happen with employees and students if the charter is terminated or not renewed
- Other information the school board considers relevant to the formation or operation of a public charter school.
What criteria must a school board use in reviewing an application?
A board must evaluate a proposal within 60 days of its receipt, at a public hearing and using specific criteria. The evaluation criteria listed in the law are used in the following questions. Many of the terms used are vague and left undefined in the law. OSBA suggests that boards should define terms in their policies and procedures for public charter schools.
- Is there demonstrated, sustainable support for the public charter school by teachers, parents, students and other community members?
- Is the applicant capable of providing comprehensive instructional programs?
- Has the applicant answered or addressed the necessary information required by the law and by the school district? The OSBA created a comprehensive list of proposed requirements a district should consider, ranging from facility use agreements to emergency procedures and distribution of educational materials. This information is in draft form.
- If the applicants are seeking to convert an existing public school, are there alternative arrangements for students, teachers and other school employees who choose not to attend or be employed by the public charter school?
- Can the applicant demonstrate financial support for the public charter school? (Examples include grants from the sponsoring school district, fees and support from the community for facility rental, instructional materials, utilities, insurance, etc.)
- Is the applicant capable of providing comprehensive instructional services to students identified as low-achieving?
- Is the value of the public charter school outweighed by any (as quoted in the statute) "directly identifiable, significant and adverse impact on the quality of the public education students residing in the school district in which the public charter is located?"
- What are the arrangements to meet the needs of special education students and those with disabilities, as required by law?
Can a charter be terminated?
Yes. During the term of the charter, the school can be terminated by the sponsor for the failure to:
- Meet the terms of an approved charter, or any provision of law;
- Meet the requirements of student performance stated in the charter;
- Correct a violation of federal or state law;
- Maintain insurance as described in the charter; and
- Maintain financial stability.
If the charter is terminated, the sponsor must notify the charter’s governing body at least 60 days before the proposed effective date of termination. The governing body may request a hearing by the sponsor and may appeal its decision. If the school board is the sponsor the appeal is to the state Board of Education. If the state Board is the sponsor, the appeal is to the circuit court in Marion County.
How are students chosen?
Enrollment is voluntary. Any student living in the district in which the charter is located may enroll. If applications from resident students exceed the school’s capacity by program, class, grade level or building capacity, the charter must select students through an equitable lottery process.
Can special education students attend a charter school?
Yes. However, the resident school district of a special education student is responsible for providing any required special education and related services.
How is student transportation handled?
The charter school must provide student transportation and may negotiate with a school district for these services. Districts must provide transportation to students attending charter schools within their boundaries in the same manner they currently provide transportation to students attending private school within their boundaries. Students must use current bus stops and routes. School districts are not required to alter or add bus routes to provide these transportation services.
Charter student transportation costs will be reimbursed by the state at the same rate as are other transportation costs.
How are employees selected?
Staff assignment to a public charter school is voluntary. The charter school’s governing body controls employee hiring. The "employer" of the public charter school employees may either be the sponsoring entity or the public charter school governing body.
Does Oregon’s collective bargaining law apply to charter employees?
If the local school district is the sponsor and also the employer of the public charter school, then the employees may be covered by existing collective bargaining agreements.
Charter school employees may organize to form a bargaining unit and bargain under Oregon’s collective bargaining law with their employer if:
a. The state Board is the sponsor and also the employer, or
b. If the public charter school governing body is the employer.
Do all public charter school teachers need to be licensed?
No. At least one-half of the charter school’s total full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching and administrative staff must hold a valid teaching license issued by the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC). The other teachers must be registered with the TSPC.