TSS Blog

Charter Applications: My Last Review

How could I have known the amount of time and detective skill it would take to successfully navigate a 600-page charter application?  As a graduate research fellow with Tennesseans for Student Success I assisted with the review of 14 charter school applications submitted this application cycle.

The Tennessee Department of Education provides us with a detailed rubric (with over 100 specific criterion) to use as a guide.  Applicants must score a rating of “meets” or “exceeds” in all three areas of the application to receive an approval recommendation from local school districts.

In my experience, those who met or exceeded the requirements proved they did their reading.  While some applicants failed to include required criterion, others were unclear, placing faith in the reviewer to search for the needed detail .  The rubric is complex comprised of three sections: Academic Plan Design and Capacity, Operations Plan and Capacity, and Financial Plan and Capacity.  The first two sections are the most cumbersome and where the bulk of needed clarifications were found.

The most common oversights I found within the charter applications are listed below.

Section 1- Academic Plan Design and Capacity

  • Failure to adequately research the school’s proposed area/demographics or failing to identify a specific location.
  • Failure to name specific curriculum to be utilized by the school and failure to provide research to support the proposed curriculum.
  • Failure to provide explicit crosswalk of proposed curriculum to Tennessee State Standards.
  • Insufficient or minimal documentation of community support- especially demonstrated interest from prospective parents within the community.

Section 2- Operations Plan and Capacity

  • Insufficient staffing model for special populations (SPED and ELL), counseling, and nursing services (typically in Year 1 and 2).
  • Assumption local school districts could provide meals with no contingency plan specified.
  • While transportation is not required for charter schools, some lacked planning for transportation requirements of SPED and homeless students.
  • Unattractive salary and/or benefits to attract/retain qualified staff.

Section 3- Financial Plan and Capacity

  • Insufficient funding for SPED and EL Staff (typically found in year 1 and 2).
  • Lack of clarity of board committee structure.
  • Missed opportunity to include local fundraising efforts in the budget.

While some applications failed to provide the required criterion for a recommendation of approval, there were charter school applicants that presented clear evidence and strong support for their specific model.  Among these strong applicants were Montessori, STEAM and Alternative High School models.  There was significant outreach and community connectedness found within the applications.

Several applicants plan to offer AP classes, dual enrollment, mentorships, afterschool programs, transportation, and career education programs.  As a mom to 4 children, I am thrilled for the students who will have a seat in one of these innovative schools.

For now, my application reviewing has come to an end.  I am honored to have played a part in ensuring all Tennessee students have access to quality education that “fits”.  From here, the decision to approve or deny lies in the hands of the local school boards.

Charter school applicants will participate in capacity interviews with the local school board before voting begins.  If the application is approved the charter school will be authorized by the LEA (Local Education Authority).  Upon a denial vote, the applicant has the opportunity to amend the application and resubmit to the school board within 30 calendar days.

Good Luck to all of the 2023 Tennessee Charter School Applicants!

Christy Murcko

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