Diversification is a key strategic goal for many organizations. And for organizations serving children, Todd Landry, the Chief Executive Officer at Lena Pope, made a great case for adding charter schools to your list of diversification options in his presentation to The OPEN MINDS Next Generation Forum On Children’s Services, Creating, Launching & Growing A Charter School: The Lena Pope Home, Inc. Case Study.
Charter schools are public schools financed by public funds and governed by their own specific charter and not by the regular public school regulations – the charter explicitly defines the school’s goals and provides a framework for measuring success. With nearly three million children attending 6,700 public charter schools in the 2014-15 school year, it’s a robust market.
If you do consider charter schools as an option for your organization, I thought the process used by Lena Pope to “vet” the opportunity was a solid one. Mr. Landry described their four key steps:
Determine the kind of school – There is no one “typical” charter school model. Each state sets its own rules and regulations regarding charter schools. Depending on the state, they can take many forms and be started and managed by different entities, such as groups of parents or charter school management organizations (CMO). If you’re considering opening a charter school, you have to understand the options and then decide what category of school you will operate when applying to become a charter. In Texas, where Lena Pope operates, charter school categories include college preparatory schools, “credit recovery” programs, charters within residential treatment facilities, and special missions.
Determine where the funding will come from – Organizations need to secure the funds to cover startup and other costs not faced by traditional schools, meaning charter schools typically rely on philanthropic, state, and federal grant programs to assist with costs. Many states have greatly increased the amount of public funds going to charter schools over the last decade, with some states allowing per-pupil funding to follow students to charter schools. Lena Pope is paid an average daily attendance amount from the state for each student being educated.
Determine how to gain the capital needed to pay for the charter school facility – One specific cost charter schools usually face (which traditional schools do not) is the cost of the facility. Lena Pope was able to float a tax-exempt bond to buy a facility for their school. Some organizations choose to lease buildings if they don’t have the capital necessary to purchase a facility.
Determine the student population served – Charter schools are seen as a way of reaching the 10%-20% of children and youth who would benefit from some sort of mental health intervention (see Schools Key To Reaching The 1 In 10 Children With Mental Health Problems). Like all services, organizations need to identify the market they wish to address. Lena Pope looked at the equity gap in communities near them and chose to primarily target low income, high-risk students for its school. Serving a niche population can make your organization stand out and be more appealing in the highly competitive charter school landscape.
For more on the complexities of working in child services, join me on August 24 at The OPEN MINDS California Management Best Practices Institute for the session, “The Changing Landscape Of Children’s Services In California: The Challenges & Opportunities Presented By Katie A. & The Continuum Of Care Reform,” featuring; Steve Hornberger, MSW, Director, Social Policy Institute, San Diego State University School of Social Work; Richard S. Knecht, MS, Transformation Manager, California Department of Healthcare Services, Department of Social Services; Judy Webber, LCSW, Deputy Director, Department of Children & Family Services, County of Ventura; and Briana Duffy, MBA, LSW, Senior Vice President, National Client Partnerships, Beacon Health Options.
And, if you’re not a member of The OPEN MINDS Next Generation Forum On Children’s Services and would like more information about the Forum and how to join, please visit the website or contact me at email@example.com.