Recent Legislative Session Brings Increased State Oversight of Connecticut Charter Schools
The most recent legislative session brought about a number of changes to laws regarding charter schools. These changes focused mainly on increasing State oversight to ensure that State charter schools are properly run and managed.
First, the law clarified that a charter is “a contract between the governing council of a charter school and the State Board of Education.” This change is important because it is now abundantly clear that the State Board of Education will have certain expectations of charter schools in exchange for its granting of the initial certificate of charter approval. Charter schools are now also required to engage in communications with the local or regional board of education for the district in which it is located. The law requires new charter schools to include in the application its plan to share student learning practices and experiences with the local or regional board of education of the town in which the proposed charter school is to be based.
The legislature also limited the State Board of Education’s ability to grant charters independently. After July 1, 2015, the State Board of Education may only grant “initial certificates of approval” for a charter. Once that has happened, the General Assembly may then determine whether it will appropriate funding for the charter school.
The new law also clarifies that initial charter school certificates will only be granted to nonprofit organizations, institutes of higher education, boards of education and regional educational resource centers. Previously, any person, association, corporation, organization or other entity could also apply for a charter. Furthermore, charter schools may only contract with tax-exempt not-for-profit organizations to act as its charter management organization (CMO). Included in the application must be specific information about the charter management organization such as the roles of the CMO in comparison to the school governing council and information about the contract between the two entities, including fees paid and contract oversight.
It is important to note that the new law now requires that “whole school management services” be provided by a CMO. The contracts with the CMO must include, at minimum:
- provisions relating to the roles an responsibilities of the governing council and the CMO;
- the performance measures, mechanisms and consequences by which the governing council will hold the CMO accountable for performance;
- the compensation to be paid to the CMO;
- financial reporting requirement and provisions for the governing council’s financial oversight;
- a choice of law provision that states that Connecticut will be the controlling law for the contract;
- a provision that the governing council of the charter school is entitled to copies of all records related to the administration of the charter school;
- a provision indicating that records or files are subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (with the exception that the governing council may redact the personally identifiable information of a contributor of a contribution if requested in writing by the contributor) and
- other information required by the Commissioner of Education.
Furthermore, there must be no financial conflict of interest and the contract must be submitted and approved by the State Board of Education.
There have also been a number of additional requirements for members of charter school governing council. First, members of the charter school board must complete training on charter school governing council responsibilities and best practices at least once during the term of the charter. Furthermore, charter school governance council members and members of charter management organizations are now required to submit to a background check of the Department of Children and Families abuse and neglect registry, and to a state and national criminal background check, before the State Board of Education may grant an initial certificate of approval for a charter or before such members may be hired. This requirement is also applicable to contractors performing services involving direct student contact. Charter school governing councils must now adopt anti-nepotism and conflict of interest policies consistent with state law and best practices in nonprofit corporate governance. A certified audit statement and financial information for the charter school must be submitted annually to the Commissioner of Education.
A charter school must now submit a written request to the State Board of Education if the charter school wishes to amend its charter to materially change, or fundamentally alter the school’s mission, organizational structure, educational program or operations of the charter school. These changes might include opening an additional school building, contracting for or discontinuing a contract for whole school management services with a charter management organization, renaming the charter school, changing the grade configurations of the school, or increasing or decreasing total student enrollment of the charter school by twenty percent (20%) or more.
To see the language of the full Public Act go to: Public Act No. 15-239