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                                                                          P R AC T I C E
                                                                          P R O F I L E

State-Funded Planning Support
for Charter School Startup
Georgia Charter School Planning Grants, Georgia Department
of Education

SUMMARY Starting a new charter school requires significant resources for research and planning in addition to
funding for development. Research and planning expenses can include the cost of developing the school’s model, generating
community and leadership support, and submitting charter documents. These costs are compounded by the expenses
involved in preparing to open the school, which include acquiring facilities, purchasing supplies, and hiring staff.
     While each new school receives per pupil dollars to fund general operation, research and planning expenses typically
are incurred before operating funds become available. New charter schools often must rely on other resources to cover
                                   the costs of research and planning. Some federal and state programs offer charter schools
                                   financial assistance with initial startup and implementation expenses; however, in most
Promising Practice in:             states, these funds are not available to potential charter school developers that are still in
   Charter School Finance          the early stages of planning.
   Charter School                       In this promising practice profile, the National Resource Center on Charter School
   Governance                      Finance and Governance highlights Georgia’s state-funded charter school planning grant
                                   program. This program supports the conceptualization and early planning stage of new
Implemented by:                    charter school development by providing financial assistance prior to the submission of a
   State Policymaker               charter application.
   Charter Authorizer
   Charter Operator
   Other                           BACKGROUND                        Several states provide charter schools with financial
                                   support for startup and initial implementation expenses. This support can include offering
Inside:                            or guaranteeing loans, providing advanced payments on per-pupil operating funds, or
   Implementation Details          supplying special startup aid. Yet most states offer this financial assistance only after a
   Impact                          charter application has been approved and the school has been established.
   Lessons Learned                      The U.S. Department of Education also provides assistance to new charter schools
   Additional Comments             for startup and implementation costs through the Public Charter Schools Grant Program.
   Useful Resources                Under this program, the department awards grants to state applicants, which then
   Contact Information
                           P RO M I S I N G
                                                                                     State-Funded Planning Support for
                           P R O F I L E                                                       Charter School Startup

allocate funds to eligible charter schools. In nonapplicant      funds may not use more than 18 months of the grant
states, the department allocates funds directly to eligible      period for planning and program design and not more than
charter schools. Federal planning and implementation             two years of the grant period for initial implementation of
grants are awarded for up to three years.                        the charter school. Charter school developers choosing
     Of the 41 states with charter school legislation, 29        to use the federal Public Charter Schools Program grant
states—including Georgia—have an approved application            for startup expenses often were unable to use all of their
to receive these federal grants. In most of these states,        allotted monies in the three-year grant period because they
subgrantees must already be charter holders or are               experienced gaps of several months—or, sometimes, of a
required to submit a charter petition after receiving a          year or more—in between the planning and research phase
grant. Charter schools are only eligible to receive the          and the operation phase. During those gaps, the federal
implementation portion of the grant after their charter          dollars went unused and eventually had to be returned to
application has been approved by the authorizing entity.         the state.
States can set additional parameters that may affect charter          To address this challenge, state department of
school grantees’ flexibility in using the funds. For example,     education officials petitioned the state legislature for funds
one state may restrict charter developers’ use of the funds      earmarked specifically to support the research and planning
to preparing basic charter application components, while         phase of charter school development. By providing charter
another state may allow developers to use the funds to           school developers with state dollars for startup expenses,
attend conferences, make site visits to high-performing          the department would be able to save federal dollars for
schools, and conduct marketing campaigns.                        charter schools that successfully navigated the startup
     Georgia is one of two states--Pennsylvania is the           phase and were fully operational. Department officials
second--that afford charter school developers access to          found broad support from state legislators, who believed
state grant assistance at the earliest stages of charter         the state grant program would ensure that charter schools
planning—up to 12 months prior to a charter application          had the time to properly plan for their openings and would
submission—and that do not require these developers              ensure that federal dollars were used more efficiently.
to submit a petition. Georgia’s state grant also gives                Legislation establishing the Georgia Charter School
developers additional time to thoroughly plan their charter      Planning Grant passed in 2003 with the help and leadership
school application and have it approved before being subject     of two major players in the state legislature: Brooks
to the 36-month timeframe for the federal funds. The state       Coleman, a state representative and the chairman of
grant supports extensive planning by providing considerable      the House Education Committee, and Dan Moody, a
flexibility in allowable uses of the grant funds.                 state senator, the chairman of the Senate Education and
                                                                 Youth Committee, and a member of the Appropriations
                                                                 Committee. Legislative supporters, along with the Georgia
IMPLEMENTATION DETAILS                                           Department of Education’s Charter School Division, built
The idea for Georgia’s Charter School Planning Grant             support for the legislation by promoting it as a way for the
emerged in 2003, as the state neared the third and final          state to maximize federal funds for new, quality charter
year of its federal grant under the Public Charter Schools       schools at minimal state cost.
Program. While preparing for year-end reports, state                  The legislation authorized the Georgia Department
department of education personnel realized that more than        of Education (GDOE) to administer a competitive grant
$2 million of the grant had gone unused and would have to        program to help cover the initial planning expenses that
be returned to the federal government.                           charter school leaders encounter when researching and
     A review of the previous three years revealed that          developing their vision to establish a charter school.
most charter schools were using federal grant monies to          The legislature appropriated $200,000 annually for this
cover startup costs and that many schools were running           program, and the department holds two grant competitions
out of time before they could use all of their allotted funds.   each year. Charter school developers complete the
Each charter schools is allowed three years to use the           application process and, after reviewing all submitted
federal grant allotment, and the three years begins as soon
as they receive the first payment. Charter schools receiving                                                                      2
                            P RO M I S I N G
                                                                                      State-Funded Planning Support for
                            P R O F I L E                                                       Charter School Startup

   proposals, the GDOE makes multiple awards of $5,000 or
   $10,000 to selected applicants. Typically, 20 to 35 grants       Amana Academy Makes Good Use of the Charter School
   are awarded annually.                                            Planning Grant
        Once a grantee is awarded a state planning grant,
   it has 12 months to use the funds allocated for planning         Amana Academy, a dual-language (Arabic-English) charter school
   and development activities (see Amana Academy Makes              in Fulton County, Georgia, received a $5,000 Charter School
   Good Use of the Charter School Planning Grant).                  Planning Grant from the Georgia Department of Education in 2003.
   Georgia does not require state planning grant awardees           Charter developers, most of whom were parents, used these funds
   to submit a charter application if they decide, after the        for a variety of purposes, including education model development,
   planning process, that they are not prepared to open a           administration, marketing, and conferences.
   school. Recipients that successfully complete the charter
   application process, however, can then apply to receive               Education Model Development. Developers made site visits
   additional funds for startup under the federal planning               to charter schools to observe different education models so
   and implementation grant program. Participation in the                they could determine which model best fit the needs of their
   state grant program increases the period of time charter              community.
   developers can receive startup support from 36 months to              Administration. Developers used grant funds to pay
   48 months.                                                            accounting and attorney fees, submit a 501(c)3 application,
                                                                         acquire a UPS mailbox, and purchase a phone voicemail service.
According to a member of Amana Academy’s development                     Marketing. Developers used the award to conduct information
team, the budgeting process of the state planning grant                  sessions, print marketing materials, and establish a website.
application and state government oversight of the grant funds            Conferences. Developers used the planning grant to attend the
impressed upon the developers the mindset of accountability              National Charter Schools Conference.
that is necessary for charter school operators.
                                                                         The state planning grant helped the charter school developers
        Activities allowed under the state planning grant           formalize their ideas and concisely develop them in written
   program also are more flexible than those allowed under           form for the charter application. The planning grant award
   traditional startup programs. The variety of supported           also helped motivate and energize parents into submitting the
   activities encourages thorough research and planning for         charter application. According to a member of Amana Academy’s
   charter school startup. State planning grants can be used        development team, the budgeting process of the state planning
   to:                                                              grant application and state government oversight of the grant funds
        conduct site visits to high-performing charter schools;     impressed upon the developers the mindset of accountability that is
        convene a design team to develop plans for curriculum;      necessary for charter school operators.
        assemble a governing board;                                      Though the $5,000 grant was not sufficient to cover all planning
        retain a technical assistance provider or a financial        expenses, Amana Academy developers were able to leverage their
        manager to develop business plans that include              government investment to raise an additional $3,000 to $4,000 from
        pre-opening costs, a five-year budget, and a funding         the community. The school is now in its third year of operation.
        development plan;
        perform community outreach and student recruitment;
        participate in nationally recognized school leader
        training programs.                                        IMPACT
                                                                  According to Andrew Broy, director of the GDOE Charter
                                                                  Schools Division, the state planning grants have proven to
                                                                  be a solid indicator of charter application quality and charter
                                                                  school sustainability. Charter developers that receive the
                                                                  grant have a strong foundation on which to build effective,
                                                                  long-lasting schools (see Grant Helps Unidos Charter              3
                              P RO M I S I N G
                                                                                        State-Funded Planning Support for
                              P R O F I L E                                                       Charter School Startup

      School Developers Plan Strategically). In the past four years,   For example, the planning grant funds allocated to Drew
      the GDOE has awarded planning grants to 72 charter               Charter School in the Atlanta City School District have
      developers. Forty-one of those recipients went on to submit      contributed to the school’s success in accessing hundreds of
      and receive approval for their charter application. Only two     thousands of dollars in foundation and corporate grants.
      of these approved charter schools have been terminated or        As mentioned above, Amana Academy Charter School
      denied a renewal of their charter.                               also leveraged its state grant to raise between $3,000 and
           With only a minimal investment in planning grants—          $4,000 from the local community.
      $5,000 or $10,000 per school—the state has invested in
      stronger charter schools by enabling potential developers
      to explore the charter school model and decide whether           LESSONS LEARNED
      they truly are ready to meet the challenges of opening a         During the planning and ongoing implementation of the state
      charter school. The expectation is that not all grantees will    planning grants, Georgia Department of Education personnel
      submit a petition, so this process helps filter out developers    encountered both challenges and opportunities that greatly
      that are unprepared or could otherwise prove unsuccessful        impacted the success of this charter school initiative.
      in their endeavors.
                                                                       Implementation Challenges
                                                                       According to division director Broy, measuring impact
Planning Grant Helps Unidos Charter School Plan                        is one of the most formidable challenges the Georgia
Strategically for Startup                                              Department of Education faces in implementing the state
                                                                       grant program. The department often lacks hard evidence
Unidos Charter School, a dual-language, multicultural charter          to justify to appropriators that the planning grants are
school in Forest Park, Georgia, was a recipient of a state             successful in achieving their intended purpose. Although
planning grant in 2003 and is now in its second full operating         the department has been able to demonstrate that charter
year. Developers used approximately 75 percent of the                  developers that receive planning grants and submit a
planning grant funds for publicity and marketing to establish          charter are more likely than not to have their school
broad community and parent support for the school. Funds               remain operational, GDOE personnel have not yet been
helped pay for printing fliers and brochures and disseminating          able to gather data to compare these charter schools with
information at community-wide fairs and events. The grant              a control group that did not receive state planning grant
money also helped with administrative costs, such as copying           funds. In addition, the analysis is complicated because many
and paperwork, needed to prepare the school’s charter                  grant recipients use the funds to study the charter model
petition. With planning grant funds helping Unidos developers          more carefully and ultimately conclude that they are not yet
carefully prepare a charter petition and garner community              prepared to become charter school operators. Explaining
and parental support, the school submitted an application and          the value of helping potential developers carefully plan
received its charter from the Clayton County School District           for and understand the challenges of running a school,
in 2005. After receiving its charter, Unidos applied for and           even though a new charter school ultimately may not be
received a three-year $400,000 federal implementation grant            established, is another challenge for the department.
through the federal Public Charter Schools Program to cover                 Establishing accountability for the use of funds also
additional startup expenses.                                           posed difficulties for GDOE officials during the initial
                                                                       implementation of the grant program. During the early
                                                                       phases of the grant competition, grant awardees were
           State planning grants can also provide charter              required to submit final expense reports at the end of their
      developers with significant leverage in accessing grants          12-month grant cycle. However, as a few grantees noted,
      from the private sector. Foundations and other private           they were not held accountable if they failed to produce
      philanthropists are more willing to grant funds to charter       adequate financial reports at the end of the year. To
      developers that have already received public support.            guarantee maximum accountability and ensure that grant

                         P RO M I S I N G
                                                                                 State-Funded Planning Support for
                         P R O F I L E                                                     Charter School Startup

recipients use funds for appropriate and intended purposes,    USEFUL RESOURCES
in 2004, GDOE decided to begin disbursing funds on a               Georgia Department of Education, Charter Schools
reimbursement basis rather than awarding funds up front.           Division, Planning Grant Application (state) http://
Charter developers now must submit to GDOE a detailed    
budget as part of their grant application that describes the       Planning%20Grant%20Application.doc.ccg.8.07.doc?p=6
types of activities that funds would support, along with           CC6799F8C1371F6FE887613522DF39DCB9BFCED1F6
expense reports detailing their transactions. The state            A8F2C5D94C5845367BE2F&Type=D
education department ensures that invoices and budgets             Public Charter Schools Grant Program (federal) http://
are aligned and then reimburses grantees for dollars spent.
The department’s aim is to couple the need to ensure               Amana Academy Charter School
proper oversight of state funds with the charter goal of 
enabling a flexible and efficient drawdown of financial               Unidos Charter School

Keys to Success                                                CONTACT INFORMATION
According to Broy, two factors were vital to the               Andrew W. Broy
legislative adoption of the planning grant program. First,     Director, Charter Schools Division
GDOE officials garnered support for the grant program           Georgia Department of Education
from key champions in the state legislature and in the         2053 Twin Towers East
Georgia Department of Education. Second, the political         205 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive, SE
environment in Georgia proved consistently supportive of       Atlanta, Georgia 30334
the charter school movement.                                   404-651-8734
     Broy also noted that the administering state    
agency must have sufficient capacity to oversee the
grant competition, allocation of funds, and reporting
requirements. Establishing and maintaining this important
infrastructure can help ensure the integrity of the grant
program and its success in encouraging well-planned
charter schools. Personnel in the Georgia Department
of Education’s Charter Schools Division evaluate grant
applications, make funding decisions, and review invoices
and budget proposals to ensure that grantees are complying
with requirements and using funds for allowable activities.
They also provide grantees with technical assistance to help
them submit their charter petition to authorizing entities.

                  P RO M I S I N G
                                                                              State-Funded Planning Support for
                  P R O F I L E                                                         Charter School Startup

    This Profile is one in a series highlighting promising practices in charter school finance and governance
implemented by state policymakers, charter authorizers, and charter operators across the country. This
Profile was written by The Finance Project for the National Resource Center on Charter School Finance and
Governance (NRC). Promising practices are selected from nominations received by the NRC on the basis of
innovativeness, evidence of positive impact, and potential for transferability and usefulness. The NRC has not
conducted program evaluations of the initiatives profiled and does not endorse particular policies, practices,
or programs. For more information on this Profile, please contact The Finance Project at (202) 628-4200.

    The contents of this Profile were developed under a grant from the Department of Education (Grant
No. U282N060012). However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of
Education and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.

To nominate a promising practice for inclusion in this series, go to


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