When Does the Charter Clock Start?
April 5, 2002
Thanks for your many responses to Paul O'Neill's inquiry concerning "when the clock starts ticking" on charters in various states and districts. Responses came in from Arizona, Florida, Denver, Colorado Springs, Anchorage, Delaware, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Chicago, and New York (City and State), as well as from several charter school policy observers who provided "big-picture" responses with a national view.
Responses from jurisdictions were divided between those places where the charter term starts on the first day of instruction and those where the term
starts on the first day of the authorizer's fiscal year (usually July 1) in the first year of instruction. The latter practice is usually designed to permit summer pre-operating payments to charter schools, which are critical for most start-up schools.
For obvious reasons, it seems rare for authorizers to start the clock ticking when a school is taking a planning year. Eric Premack points out that in jurisdictions with caps, where charters may be treated as a precious commodity, authorizers could guard against the risk of valuable charters dying on the vine by setting a clear expiration date for any planning time
granted to charter awardees, after which the charter would revert to the granting agency if the school fails to open or is not actively seeking to open.
On this issue, attached is a letter that Bryan Hassel of Public Impact wrote to the North Carolina State Board of Education in Sept. 2000, protesting that board's policy to start charter clocks ticking even when a school elects to take a planning year.
Paul's original question is recopied below, followed first by the big-picture responses to provide some national context, and then responses
from individual jurisdictions. As usual, this is long, so keep scrolling!
We would be interested to learn about what experiences other authorizers have had and what arguments have been made in support of the proposition that the clock does not start to run on a charter until instruction begins. For example, in NY charters are often issued in the Spring, but instruction does not generally begin until late August or September. To the extent that the charter was meant to provide 5 years of
instructional time, it would be helpful to construe the charter as commencing on approximately the first day of instruction or the date on which the district begins providing funds for that year. Such a trigger would also facilitate the taking of a planning year. If the clock begins to run on a charter from the moment of issuance, then those who take a planning year are faced with a difficult choice -- lose a year
under the charter or take the planning year before obtaining the charter (which could make fund raising and organization difficult). We would appreciate feedback on this issue as we continue to think it through.
ERIC PREMACK, CHARTER SCHOOLS DEVELOPMENT CENTER:
Most state laws, including ours in California, are silent with regard to the specific date when a charter term begins. To avoid confusion between the school and granting agency, we generally recommend that the start date issue
be clarified in the charter document and that the date be contemporaneous with the first day of instruction. In addition to Paul O'Neill's points
regarding encouraging sufficient planning time, other advantages include avoiding mid-year charter expirations and including year-end student
assessment and operational/financial data in the renewal analysis.
One potential drawback is that charter awardees who fail to ever open their school may hold a charter that is never activated and consume "room" under a state's cap on the number of charters that may be issued. This could be
addressed by including a firm expiration date (e.g., charter expires in two years if the school fails to open and/or is not actively seeking to open).
JON SCHROEDER, CHARTER FRIENDS NATIONAL NETWORK:
This has become a big issue in some states with caps since there's a conflict between, in effect, holding a slot for a school when it wants to
take an extra year for planning (or can't find a facility or otherwise isn't ready to open the next fall after a charter is granted) and the competition for every slot that's available once a cap is reached (or nearly reached). This has led some states including North Carolina to start the term clock running when the charter is granted, rather than when the school actually
opens, in part as a disincentive against what some might regard as "wasting" a precious slot on a school that's not yet operating.
I think this is a horrible situation for all kinds of reasons and strongly believe that terms should not begin until schools actually open. This is so logical, it's amazing to believe anyone could think otherwise, but I think
the dynamic I described above helps explain why this has become an issue in some states.
DEAN MILLOT, EDUCATION ENTREPRENEURS FUND & NEW AMERICAN SCHOOLS:
Unless the enabling legislation is specific on this point, I think the start date would be within the reasonable discretion of the chartering body.
Consequently, I think the charter would commence the day the chartering authority said it commences in whatever formal document is used as a record of the agency's decision to grant the charter.
One practical constraint on the agency's decision might be that they might not be able to advance certain funds to a school before the day they set for charter commencement, where such funds are available only to charter schools, because before the commencement date, the entity is not legally a
BRYAN HASSEL, PUBLIC IMPACT:
North Carolina has taken the view that the charter starts when it is issued. This is typically the spring before the school opens, though in cases where schools take planning years, it can be two springs before.
This is a truly atrocious policy for all the reasons Paul suggests. See my attached (futile) letter to the state board chair on the issue.
JONATHAN GYURKO, NEW YORK CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION:
From the NYC BOE's perspective, the optimal timeline makes a distinction between the date of authorizer approval and the start date of the charter. The five-year charter should begin when instruction begins (most often September) or when the school first receives its funds (the beginning of the fiscal year--July 1st for NYC)-- whichever is first.
This does not preclude a school from having an approved five-year charter, with a future start date, (for all the obvious planning and preparation benefits). The school starts its race (through planning), before the clock
starts ticking (the five year countdown). I think at least a 1-year planning period before the 5 year charter begins is appropriate.
IRA SCHWARTZ, NEW YORK STATE EDUCATION DEPT.:
The New York State Education Department has taken the position that the five year period starts with the effective date of the issuance of the charter.
As Jonathan Gyurko indicates, most charters become effective either with the beginning of the next fiscal year or the instructional year. Sometimes, schools receive approval for a charter with an effective date more than a year in advance of the date of the approval of the charter. In other cases, schools have an effective date for their charter that has preceded by more than a year the date of the beginning of instruction. In these cases, the
school will only have four years of instruction before the charter must be renewed.
Example: If your effective date is September 2003, then you would have the 2003-2004, 2004-2005,2005-2006,2006-2007, and 2007-2008 school year in which to provide instruction. Between April 2002 and September 2003 you would have
an approved charter but not one that was actually yet effective. On the other hand if we issued the charter with an effective date of September
2002, and for some reason your opening was delayed until September 2003, your charter would still expire after the 2006-2007 school year.
JOHN ROTHWELL, CINCINNATI SCHOOL DISTRICT
In Ohio the practice is to coordinate the start, and thus the end, of contracts with the official school year which corresponds with the fiscal
year. July first to June 30th. Contracts commence on July the first and end on June the 30th.
SHERRY EASTLUND & WAYNE ECKERLING, DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
In Denver, a charter school contract generally starts the first day of the fiscal year (July 1) for which the charter school is approved to open. A five-year charter contract ends on the last day of the fiscal year (June 30) of the fifth year of operation.
Denver has had a couple of charter schools approved a year early in order to plan and fundraise. However, the charter school funding from the state and through the district does not start until the fiscal year in which the school starts serving students.
GREG RICHMOND, CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
In Chicago, we address this issue quite clearly in our contract with our charter schools. No matter when my board acted upon the charter application in the winter or spring, the charter starts July 1 and ends June 30 five years later.
DIANE McCAIN, FLORIDA DEPT. OF EDUCATION:
From Florida, our county school districts (the authorizers/sponsors of charters) use the date that school opens for "starting the clock." In terms of monitoring schools, districts are looking at performance and compliance with their contractual agreement.
And yes, we do have some charter applications that are approved, and the opening (for many reasons) may be delayed. Often this is with the
full support of the county, so that good planning and good facilities are in place before the doors open and children are served.
LARRY GABBERT, DELAWARE DEPT. OF EDUCATION:
In Delaware, the law states that the initial term of a charter is "three school years of operation" (Delaware Code, Title 14, Section 503). We take
that to mean that the initial year begins on the date on which the school begins its instructional program in September. If a school is granted a
charter and then is approved to have a planning year, that year of non-operation is not counted as the first year of the charter.
DORIS CAINE, COLORADO SPRINGS SCHOOL DISTRICT:
In Colorado Springs, we grant the charter with the time clock starting at the beginning of the next fall school year, so the contracts read, for example, for the 2000-2005 school years (for a five-year contract). Our renewal process is finalized in the fifth year of the contract, and the new contract is readied for the charter school to continue with the new contract at the
beginning of the school year. Same thing happens with new charters. Colorado is considering changing the law to have the applications due the 15th of August for opening the fall of the following year. Presently the law states
that applications are due Oct. 1 for starting the following fall.
DAVID HARRIS, MAYOR'S OFFICE OF INDIANAPOLIS:
In Indianapolis, we are issuing charters for seven years and will consider them to run through the seventh year of instruction. Our law
gives the sponsor virtually total discretion over the length of the charter.
MARK LINABURY, CONNECTICUT DEPT. OF EDUCATION
Charters in CT follow state law and to that end are required to hold 180 days of school and at least 900 hours. The first day of school starts the clock. Charter terms in CT are 5 years. The annual reports accounts for number of days/hours.
BONNIE BARCLAY, ARIZONA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION:
When the AZ State Board of Education approves a charter, that applicant has a six-month window in which to open their school. We just get a few applications per year, therefore it's pretty easy to keep it straight.
Most of the applications are approved to charter by the April board meeting, leaving only the remaining months for them to determine and secure an appropriate site; get it ready for opening in August of the same year; and sign their contract after all the appropriate paperwork is submitted. Once the contract is signed they are free to open immediately (which they usually do).
CAROL COMEAU, ANCHORAGE SCHOOL DISTRICT:
Our "clock" starts once the School Board and the State Board of Education and Early Development approve the charter for the next school year. It is effective July 1 of the appropriate school year and must be renewed annually after a full administrative and school board review at a public meeting.
"LETTER FROM B. HASSEL TO NORTH CAROLINA STATE BD. OF ED."
423 HERMITAGE COURT
CHARLOTTE, NC 28207
September 6, 2000
Mr. Phil Kirk
Chair, State Board of Education
301 North Wilmington Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
I wanted to drop you a note about a charter-school policy issue that I believe has come before the State Board and the Charter School Advisory Committee ó the question of what happens to the term of a charter if a school delays its opening for a year or more. As I understand it, the policy of the Board is that if a school elects to take a year to plan, ďthe clock is tickingĒ on its charter. Once it opens, instead of five years before its potential renewal, the school has only four years. A school that takes two years to plan has only three operating years until renewal.
In my view, this approach is counterproductive for two reasons. First, the policy discourages schools from taking a year to plan their schools more carefully. We all know how difficult it is to open a new charter school. When a group receives a charter in March, itís possible to open the schoolís doors in the fall. But in many cases, itís advisable for the developers to take another year to find a suitable facility, hire an excellent faculty, and work out their educational and business plans more thoroughly. I believe the Board has actually encouraged schools to take this planning year.
But the ticking-clock policy discourages the sort of careful implementation Iím sure the Board wants to promote. Schools that take a year to plan have to tell parents and lenders and landlords and donors that theyíll only have four years of operation before facing renewal, instead of five. Amidst all the other uncertainly around a charter school, shortening this timeline can only make the school less attractive to these potential supporters. For schools on the fence about taking a planning year, the ticking clock may well push them to go ahead and open, even if theyíre not ready.
Second, the policy will make it more difficult for the Board to make sensible renewal decisions. For schools that do take a planning year despite the ticking clock, the Board will face a tough situation when it comes time for renewal. Since the renewal process must start well before the final year of a schoolís charter, the Board may only have three full years worth of data to examine as it makes its decision. Three years tells you something, but the General Assembly presumably set forth the five-year term in an effort to give the Board more information when deciding on renewals. I would hate to sit in judgment on a school based on only three years of results. For schools that take two planning years, the Board would only have two years of information in front of it. Thatís even more problematic.
Iíve spoken with several people around the state about this policy, and I have yet to hear a convincing argument in favor of it. Perhaps the best one is the simplest ó that though it may be a bad idea, the legislation requires it. Iím no attorney, but I just canít see where the statute forces the Boardís hand in this way. The law says that the ďState Board of Education may grant the initial charter for a period not to exceed five years,Ē but it says nothing about when that term should begin. Presumably the term canít just start the day the Board approves the application, because that would cause the five years to end in February or March of the schoolís fifth year. It appears to me that it is up to the Board when to start the clock ticking, and that there is no statutory reason why that starting point canít be put off a year or two.
One argument Iíve heard draws the analogy of a driver license. If you get a driver license that expires in five years, and you stick it in your sock drawer and donít drive for two years, the license still expires five years from the date you got it. You donít get two extra years because you failed to use it. But what I donít understand is why the State Board of Education should use driver license policy as the basis for its charter school renewal policy. Here are a couple of reasons not to: (1) the state has no policy interest in encouraging people to take a planning year before using their driver licenses; and (2) the state does not need 4-5 years of data on drivers in order to decide whether to renew their licenses. Driver license renewal is fairly perfunctory.
I realize that a couple of the particular schools that have requested delays are large, high profile, controversial schools. But I hope the State Board will set policy in this area on the merits of the policy, not in thinking about particular schools. If the Board believes particular schools should not be given more time to plan, the appropriate response is to re-claim their charters, not to hold out the prospect of truncated charters for all schools that take planning years.
Thanks for your consideration of this matter, and for all your leadership on behalf of children in North Carolina.
cc: Michael Fedewa, Grova Bridgers
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