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Jump In Applications To Open Charter Schools Presents Challenges

The number of applications to open charter schools has jumped significantly since the charter school cap was lifted in 2011.  There used to be a couple dozen applications per year.  This year 156 groups plan to apply and that means a whole lot of work for the people who review them. 

Joel Medley is in charge of the office that oversees all of the state’s charter schools.  This year, he expected to hear from a lot of groups wanting to open schools, but not quite this many. 

“When I saw 156, the first thing I thought of was: how are we going to process all these?” remembers Medley.    

He thought there was no way his staff of four could review all these applications by themselves.  After all, an application can easily run one hundred pages.  So he decided to recruit some educators to help screen them before handing them off to the charter advisory council. 

“Once we get those remarks in from the screeners, we will go back through each of those,” says Medley.  “That’s going to afford the council the opportunity of having two sets of eyes that have been on every application as it moves forward.”

The council’s job is to tell the state board of education which groups deserve a charter.  If all 156 applications look good, the council can tell the state board to approve all of them.   So the advisory council goes through its own screening process. 

“The last time around, I spent around three hours per application, reading them and digesting them,” says the council’s chairman John Betterton.  He’s also the principal of Bethel Hill charter school. 

To speed up the process, council members have put a page limit on the applications.  They’ve also gotten a two-month extension from the state board of education to review them. 

“It’s going to be a taxing process and, I think, if that continues the legislature is going to have to appropriate some kind of funding or some kind of support there,” says Betterton.

After all, he points out it’s a lot easier to deny a bad application than close a school once it’s up and running.

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.