Charter Schools
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Charter School Lawyers in Buffalo

The Coppola Firm works with charter schools in New York State, providing legal advice and guidance to charter school organizers, charter school board members, and superintendents and heads of charter schools. Charter schools became part of New York State’s public education offerings with the passing of the New York State Charter Schools Act of 1998. Outside of New York City, charter schools in New York are authorized by either the New York State Education Department (NYSED) or the State University of New York Charter Schools Institute (SUNY), with ultimate approval from the New York State Board of Regents.

Some of the areas in which we work with clients include:

  1. Personnel issues
  2. Charter school performance standards
  3. Board obligations
  4. Risk management
  5. SED communications
  6. Comptroller audits
  7. Leases and land use
  8. Employee and student discipline
  9. Special education, privacy, and other laws

Charter schools are independent public schools founded by not-for-profit boards of trustees. Charter schools are non-sectarian, tuition-free, open to all students residing in the State, governed by the school’s own self-selecting board of trustees, and independent of existing traditional public school districts.

Their founders apply for a charter, which is like a contract, for up to a maximum of five years. Charter schools are New York public schools, and they are open to all New York students. Many charter schools have unique educational approaches that may include longer school days, a longer school year, or themed programs. Interestingly, charter schools receive less per-pupil funding from the State government than do traditional public schools.

Because they are public schools, charter schools are governed by and answer to the State Education Department. All students are entitled to attend a charter school.  There are no entrance exams or other hurdles in place to prevent students from attending the school. However, the Regents or another chartering entity determines a maximum number of students who may enroll in a charter school. Thus, when a charter school’s student population reaches maximum enrollment, the charter school cannot admit additional students. When qualified applicants outnumber available capacity, a lottery is required, leaving some families disappointed when admission is denied despite otherwise qualifying.

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Another way charter schools differ from traditional public schools is that charter schools are required to meet their stated charter objectives in order to obtain successive renewal charters of up to five years per renewal. All New York State charter schools must submit annual reports to the Board of Regents and their authorizers. Students at charter schools take New York State standardized tests, including Regents examinations.

One way charter schools are similar to traditional public schools is that they have a duty to wisely use public funds. For example, the Charter Schools Act requires that a charter school be subject to the financial audits, the audit procedures, and the audit requirements described in its charter. The procedures and standards must be applied consistently with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS) and Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS). Independent audits of financial statements are required at least once annually. The audits are required to be comparable in scope to those required of other public schools, keeping in mind that charter schools are required to follow the accounting standards set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), and traditional public school districts are required to follow the accounting standards set by the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

Because they are not-for-profit education corporations, charter schools have a range of academic and staffing models, missions, goals, and policies. Individual charter schools in Buffalo and Rochester, as well as elsewhere across New York State, provide information about schedules, grading, discipline, promotion criteria, open house dates, and the names of staff and boards of trustees members.

Our attorneys assist founding board trustees to become chartered. Once chartered, our attorneys assist boards of trustees with policies and procedures, compliance with NYSED requirements, annual and renewal reporting, assistance with Comptroller audits, and provide guidance on myriad legal issues including purchasing buildings and engaging consultants and vendors to ensure robust curriculum. We often work with a charter school’s accountants and other professional consultants such as insurance agents and bankers, and we welcome collaboration to best serve our charter school clients.

Legal guidance provided to charter schools often focuses on employment law as well. Although they are non-profit education corporations, charter schools have employees, including their faculty and other staff, and this implicates employment and labor law. Most charter schools in Buffalo and Rochester, New York are unionized, and our attorneys engage in collective bargaining with the unions as well as provide legal guidance to charter school boards around labor unions.

Our attorneys also work with charter schools to ensure safe premises for students and other stakeholders, including attention to various State and federal laws that protect students, faculty and others. Some of those statutes are the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The former is a State law, and the latter is a federal law. Our attorneys help with ensuring our charter school clients have robust Title IX programs, education, and training. We often provide guidance around contracts and the interpretation of contract terms, just as we may do with other non-profit corporations.

The goal of charter schools is to provide a robust education to students who may not have the most robust traditional school opportunities. As a result, the trustees and administration of charter schools always have their students at the center of their concerns and attention. Our attorneys are honored to work with charter school trustees and administrators to educate New York’s students and provide them with creative, engaging opportunities to learn.

Indeed, our attorneys have themselves been charter school board members and founders, so they have unique knowledge about what is involved to ensure excellence in education for charter school students.  If you are a charter school trustee or administrator and you desire experienced, practical legal advisors, contact The Coppola Firm today by calling (716) 839-9700 or filling out the online contact form.

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