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Charter applicants could offer test of new for-profit operator ban

Four prospective charter schools could force the state to define precisely how involved for-profit companies can be in the operations of charter schools.

When the legislature lifted the cap on charter schools in May, it also banned for-profit companies from managing or operating charters. But four of the schools applying to open next year are partnering with Arrow Academy, a Texas-based for-profit management organization.

Arrow’s ability to open the schools will come down to how close a for-profit company can work with a school before the state considers it to be managed by them.

The four are applying for charters from the state Board of Regents, and their applications are also currently being vetted by the city Department of Education. A city spokesman said today that Arrow’s relationship with the school would be like any other charter or district school that contracts with a for-profit company to provide school services.

Arrow Academy had originally intended to apply to manage the schools itself, the company’s head, Jim Christensen, said today. But when the law changed, the company altered its application so that instead, it will contract with the school’s board to provide curriculum and teacher training.

The four schools — two in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan and one in the Bronx — are still in the process of applying for their charters and it’s not guaranteed they will be approved. But if they are, they could signal one way that for-profit management companies could remain for-profit and continue to work with New York charter schools.

For a consulting fee, Arrow Academy will contract with the four schools’ boards, which will be comprised mainly of people affiliated with local community groups. The schools won’t need to find public space, as community organizations have already volunteered to house them.

In the city charter office’s executive summary of the applications, Arrow’s role is described in broad terms: the schools will partner with Arrow, the summaries say, “for education and operational services under the [schools’] chartering board.”

Christensen described a more limited potential role, with Arrow involved mainly in how students are taught. “We would like to be involved with the decisions that have to do with student development,” Christensen said. “That’s Arrow’s interest.”

Arrow also plans to advise the boards of the prospective charters against spending more than 15 percent of their per-pupil funding on any single contractor, including itself, Christensen said.

“It’s a unique model that we think we can incorporate with the new law,” he said.

Arrow is a new company, formed in October 2009 by Christensen in partnership with Flip Flippen, the head of the teacher professional development and business coaching company Flippen Group.

The company’s model is to establish “learning centers,” which Christensen described as analogous to New York City’s small schools, located in community centers or other facilities run by non-profit organizations. (That includes church space, though none of the charters the group is working with in New York would be located at a church.)

Flippen was contacted by Chancellor Joel Klein, Christensen said, after Klein noticed that Flippen’s professional development was used in a number of schools that had shown rapid improvement on their report card grades. That connection was part of the reason why the company chose the city, along with its home base of Texas, as one of the first locations to open new schools.

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