Authorizers have few tools as powerful as their charter contracts. The language in a charter contract puts operators on notice as to what is expected and alerts operators that consequences may be imposed for failure to meet those expectations.
Charter contracts should include specific provisions that, at the very least, establish an operator’s legal responsibility to serve English learners and an operator’s legal duty not to discriminate against any student based on language acquisition or proficiency. But charter contracts can go much farther to clearly articulate a broader range of requirements.
Florida Department of Education
For instance, the Florida Department of Education’s “Standard Charter Contract” went into effect in December 2016 and included six, different, EL-specific provisions. Not only does this model contract, one that may be used by every authorizer in the state, require an operator to either adopt the District’s EL plan or seek local authorizer approval for another legally sufficient plan (and include such plan as an exhibit to the charter contract), but this model contract also establishes that the charter contract may not be renewed if the operator fails to abide by all applicable laws relating to EL students. While many charter contracts imply non-renewal as a consequence for failure to abide by federal and state laws, especially federal and state civil rights laws, the Florida model contract’s explicit notice of potential non-renewal for failure to satisfy EL laws is both powerful and easy to emulate.
Moreover, Florida’s model charter contract requires an operator to annually submit both academic proficiency and academic growth data for EL students in English language arts and math and requires EL students be taught by certified personnel. This clear language focuses an operator on the academic performance required by its authorizer, emphasizing the need for an operator to educate, not just enroll, its EL students.
Finally, this model contract does not just include non-discrimination language (prohibiting discrimination against EL students)–it raises the standard. It both establishes that an operator shall make a reasonable effort to achieve a racial/ethnic balance reflective of the community it serves and expressly demands that an operator recruit all segments of a community, enlisting local media and convening informational meetings across the community, using non-English materials when appropriate. This provision again clearly communicates the authorizer’s expectation; schools must outreach broadly and with translated materials as needed, and schools are on notice that failure to do so may be enforced by their authorizers as non-compliance with their charter contract.
A Word of Caution
We caution authorizers against forcing an applicant to incorporate every detail of their EL program into the charter contract to the extent that it limits the applicant’s flexibility to make changes to their program in response to the needs of its students, results of periodic evaluations, etc. Authorizers can impose specific requirements related to the minimum requirements of an EL program and policy while giving applicants some flexibility to make adjustments without a formal charter amendment.