On August 11, 2014 the State Department of Education announced changes to improve State oversight of Charter Schools. The changes proposed by the state will center around three categories including:

Improved Governance and Operations:

This policy change will focus on improving charter school board of director’s supervision of charter schools by requiring background checks for all board members and employees of the Board.  This will include all employees, contractors and Charter Management Organization (CMO) staff members. The background checks will include, at a minimum, a state and national criminal record check, fingerprinting, and a record check of the Department of Children and Families Child Abuse and Neglect Registry.

Additionally, a policy will be adopted to mandate that charter school boards and CMOs adopt and adhere to anti-nepotism and conflict of interest policies.  Most charter schools already have such policies in place; however, the Department will now make the adoption of such policies an explicit requirement.

All Charter School Board members will be required to attend trainings on board responsibilities and best practices in charter school governance.  Board members failing to complete such training will be ineligible to remain on the board.  While it is clear that the trainings will focus on principles of board oversight; recruitment, screening, and hiring  practices; financial management; and other key areas, it is unclear who will give the training and how often such training will be required.

The State will develop clearer rules governing the fees charged by charter management organizations.  It will require more annual reporting in key areas, strengthen the Department’s role in the annual random audit process, and expand the Department’s charter school office to enable more effective oversight.

Clear Expectations for Student Performance and Equity

The Department will now require that charter documents set explicit expectations for student outcomes and school operations.  These goals should be ambitious and measurable.  The expectation for renewal, expansion, probation, or closure will be clarified.

Expectations for the recruitment of vulnerable student populations will be clarified by the Department.  An accounting of student attrition will be required and the Department will study ways to assist charter schools in improving recruitment of high needs students.

The criteria for awarding new charters will be revisited, clarified, and will allow new charters time for planning years.  The Department will explore ways to fund small grants to charter applicants that opt to dedicate the first year after receiving a charter to planning for opening the following school year. The state will also convene a workshop to examine ways to improve delivery of special education services.

Greater Public Transparency

The Department will also reiterate current law which states that charter schools and their boards of directors are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.  The Department will also require that CMO-charter school agreements include language stating that CMOs performing functions that render the CMO the functional equivalent of a public agency, are subject the FOIA.

Lastly, the Department will implement steps to ensure that charter school boards of directors are complying with open public meeting rules.  Through random and periodic reviews as well as other measures, the Department will take steps to ensure that charter schools are posting agendas of board meetings, and meeting minutes to their websites.

The official policy changes will be forthcoming; however the press release can be viewed in its entirety here.