How to Start a Public Charter School in DC

An Overview of DC PCSB’s Charter Application Process

Established in 1996, The DC Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB) is an independent government agency of the District of Columbia. Led by a seven-member volunteer board, DC PCSB provides oversight to 123 public charter schools that are managed by 66 independently run nonprofit organizations called local education agencies (LEAs). During school year 2018-19, public charter schools educated 43,958 DC students, nearly half of the public school students in the city.

A critical component of DC PCSB’s mission is to provide quality public school options through a comprehensive application review process. Each year, DC PCSB accepts applications to open new schools from a wide range of applicants from various backgrounds. The 2019 Charter Application Guidelines outline the standard for approval applicants must meet to be approved to open a new public charter school in Washington, DC. DC PCSB evaluates each application up against the five main criteria in the standard for approval:

·       a demonstrated need for the school;

·       sufficient progress in developing the plan;

·       consistency of the mission and philosophy;

·       inclusiveness;

·       and founding group ability.

The entire application review process is outlined in more detail, below.

The first step in the charter application review process is to submit a Letter of Intent to submit an application. While not required, this step is encouraged to allow DC PCSB staff to plan appropriately for the upcoming cycle. Approximately a month later,  the electronic application is due. Once submitted, DC PCSB informs the applicants about the completeness of their electronic submission. If there are pieces missing from the electronic submission, the applicant group has several days to ensure completeness and submit final electronic and paper versions of the application.

Each application is read by a review team of DC PCSB staff. Each review team is comprised of a lead reviewer, secondary reviewer, special student population expert, finance expert,  and a community engagement expert. For applications where there is an expertise gap, DC PCSB seeks guidance from industry experts to review the application. Out of the 11 applications submitted during the most recent cycle, DC PCSB sought outside expertise for two of them. In this case, DC PCSB staff lacked relevant expertise about Arabic language and high school Montessori programing. DC PCSB Board members read all applications.

Once applications have been submitted, DC PCSB staff review teams begin weeding through hundreds of pages of content to determine which applications are strong, which are weak, and where we need further clarification. As the DC PCSB teams review the applications, they meet regularly to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each one. They then formulate unique questions based on the weak or confusing areas in their respective applications to ask during the capacity interview portion of the application review process.  

Capacity Interviews are interviews conducted by DC PCSB staff. These interviews focus on areas of the application where the review team needs additional clarity, and usually include questions about the founding group’s ability to execute the plan as written, supports for students with disabilities, teacher recruitment and retention, and demand for the proposed school. The interview may also include hypothetical situations to gauge how the founding team would respond to challenges facing public charter schools in DC. During the capacity interview, applicants are encouraged to bring their whole founding team to ensure questions are answered thoroughly. The capacity interview lasts approximately 90 minutes.

Staff and Board members may also conduct site visits for applicants who are seeking to expand a program model that currently exists in other states. DC PCSB staff visit existing sites to observe program implementation.

Finally, the applicants come before the DC Public Charter School Board for a public hearing. The public hearing is the Board's final opportunity to ask any unresolved or lingering questions they may have before making their decision to approve or deny each charter applicant. The public hearing lasts approximately 30 minutes.

At the following Board meeting, held approximately one month later, the Board makes their decision about whether to approve or deny each applicant group. A formal decision letter is sent to each applicant group informing them of the Board’s vote in the days after the Board meeting.

More information about starting a charter school can be found here.

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