Charter schools tend to fall within three main growth stages: start-up, growth, and sustainable maturity. These stages are defined by years in operation and number of students served. Each phase presents unique challenges and best practices.


Growth Stages Chart

It’s important to recognize why charter schools close. According to The Center for Education Reform1, 66% of charter school closures are for financial reasons (42%) and mismanagement (24%). (By contrast, fewer than 20% closed due to academic issues.) These numbers suggest that schools often close due to a lack of funds or because funds weren’t managed well. Another telling figure: 87% of charter schools that closed did so in the first three years.

Leading Causes Closures

The start-up stage includes the very first tasks required to form a charter school: hiring, launching, and running until 10–25% of your target enrollment has been achieved. Without a doubt, this is the most challenging and stressful stage for charter school leaders.

Primary challenges:

  • Securing financing beyond state funding
  • Obtaining facilities
  • Building community awareness, finding students
  • Establishing an academic program
  • Staffing to meet your school’s demands
Classroom with blue chairs

Schools within 25-85% of target enrollment are typically within the growth stage. Unsurprisingly, the theme of the growth stage is constant change—your school will look entirely different at the beginning of this stage than it does at the end.

Primary Challenges:

  • ƒ Delivering on your promise to your students and to the community
  • ƒ Flexible financing
  • ƒ Scalable facilities
  • ƒ Proving academic efficacy and improvement
  • ƒ Scalable operational support
Teacher helping student in classroom

Schools that have reached sustainable maturity are at 90 – 100% of target enrollment. They are focused on improving academic programs and getting more efficient across the board, from accounting systems to recruitment processes. 

Primary Challenges: 

  • Your students’ continual academic improvement
  • Finding the best rates on financing
  • Attractive facilities
  • Becoming part of the fabric of your community
Glass front of school building
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Color mural from SET High School next to a basketball court.