NACSA has been following the legislative developments in Connecticut intensely this year as policymakers and the charter community debate how to respond to the high-profile charter oversight concerns that surfaced last year. Much of this debate has centered on the oversight of charter management organizations (known as CMOs) and how the state can ensure they are properly monitored and overseen by authorizers and the public.
Connecticut law defines CMOs as non-profit organizations that provide a range of services to charter schools. These services could include whole-school management, school design and curriculum models, professional services like teacher training and teacher recruitment, or back-of-house personnel and accounting operations. CMOs can be national organizations like KIPP, or they can be local or regional organizations like Achievement First (which manages five schools in Connecticut as well as schools in New York and Rhode Island) and Domus (which works with two charter schools for high-need students).
CMOs are nothing to be scared of. They simply reflect one of many ways to organize and operate a charter school. Some charter school governing boards choose to work with them because they can bring a lot to the table in terms of expertise, curriculum, and resources. And nationally, the best CMOs are one of the drivers of high-quality charter school growth.
When managed right, CMOs can be healthy and strong additions to the education landscape.
We know what it takes to get CMO management right. NACSA has specific guidelines for authorizers in our Principles & Standards for Quality Authorizing that speak clearly to how charter schools that use CMOs should be evaluated, monitored, and held accountable. Best practice includes things like ensuring charter schools that use CMOs have clear conflict of interest policies in place, requiring regular financial oversight and reporting, and most of all ensuring that charter boards can hold these CMOs accountable through clear, public, transparent contracts.
I think we all recognize that oversight of CMOs in Connecticut has not always made the grade, but this is changing. The Connecticut Department of Education has recently taken steps to ramp up transparency and oversight of charter schools and their relationships with CMOs. Additionally, the legislature is independently considering enshrining these best practices into policy, which we fully support.
We need to grow quality seats wherever they are—be it in an independent charter school, a CMO-affiliated charter school, or a traditional public school. Let’s focus on this goal. Problems like CMO oversight that we already know how to solve shouldn’t get in the way. Good schools, including those working with proven, accountable CMOs, deserve funding to grow and provide more quality seats to Connecticut children.