Start Smart

Resources, trainings, and expert support services for California charter school developers.

The Basics

California School Dashboard

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school that receives public funding to operate following the approval of its charter petition. Charter schools enjoy certain instructional and operational freedoms in exchange for increased accountability for performance. In 1992, the California legislature passed the Charter Schools Act to “provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure, as a method to accomplish all of the following:

  • Improve pupil learning.
  • Increase learning opportunities…, [especially for] pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.
  • Encourage…different and innovative teaching methods.
  • Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
  • Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices…within the public school system.
  • Hold [charter] schools…accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes, and…change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.
  • Provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools.”

Who can develop a charter school?

Successful charter schools have been initiated by surprisingly diverse developers, not just educators but also philanthropists, parents, community organizations, and other concerned citizens wanting to make a difference for children. Ultimately, strong developers will have a sound educational vision and the capacity to unite a team that has the expertise to skillfully implement that vision. This means depth of instructional expertise and the ability to build a school culture that helps educators and students thrive. A successful team also has the managerial experience to lead for a shared vision and the knowledge base to implement sound operations, finance, and school governance—all things for which CSDC can provide assistance.

Who approves the petition to establish a new charter school?

In California, charter developers generally first submit their petitions to their local school districts. If a charter developer’s petition is denied by the local school district, the developer may appeal to the county office of education and, if denied there, to the State Board of Education.

How many charter schools have been granted in California?

Since the passage of California’s first charter school law in 1992, over 2,100 charter schools have been granted in the state of California. Approximately 1,300 of these schools are operating today. To learn about charter schools in your area, search the California Department of Education’s helpful directory of California charters by county.

Resources & Support

California School Dashboard

CSDC supports charter school development teams in numerous ways, starting with helping to assess the viability of plans. In addition to the common options below, CSDC sometimes supports promising development teams through individualized consulting, subject to CSDC staff availability.

CSDC Developer Membership

In addition to receiving Charter Currents (CSDC's online journal that provides timely, in-depth coverage of relevant topics) and gaining access to other resources, CSDC Developer Members gain up to 5 hours of personalized technical assistance, which they may use to have their specific, development-related questions answered via phone or email. Learn more »

Events & Trainings

The best CSDC event for developers to attend is our annual California conference, the Charter Schools Leadership Update Conference. In addition to a comprehensive update on the latest fiscal and policy developments, the conference features workshops, breakout sessions, and structured networking. For many school leaders, this is a must-attend event every year, to ensure they stay up to date with the latest changes and trends.

Once your school has secured approval, you might also consider attending our annual Charter Schools Leadership Intensive or Charter Business Officer Training Program.

Board Governance

CSDC’s Charter School Governing Board Sample Policies is one of the most strategic publications for a new school developer. The Sample Policies provide an editable template of key school policies, so developers can customize the policies to their needs. The policies have been vetted for legal and practical considerations by experts in charter school governance and law.

CSDC also strongly suggests that charter school board members complete CSDC’s Online Governance Academy or an equivalent training, with periodic refreshers. Charter schools can be non-renewed due to fiscal and governance missteps. These trainings help charter school boards climb an important learning curve sooner rather than later.

CSDC members stay up to date with CSDC’s Charter Currents emails, including the Board Bulletin, designed for governing board members’ needs.

Next Steps

Reach out to learn more about how CSDC can guide and support your team through the charter school development process. You may also Join our Mailing List to receive timely email updates and announcements.

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Gain complete access to chartercenter.org and to the ongoing operational support we provide to CSDC Members.

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Non-members can sign up to receive California charter school updates and access select chartercenter.org content.


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