Charter schools have been seen explosive growth in the US, but what are they and how do they differ from other types of schools? Let’s begin with a succinct definition from the U.S. Department of Education:
“A public charter school is a publicly funded school (charter schools can also get money from donors etc.) that is typically governed by a group or organization under a legislative contract (or charter) with the state or jurisdiction. The charter exempts the school from certain state or local rules and regulations. In return for flexibility and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards stated in its charter.”
Across the majority of the United States, public charter schools are rapidly growing in both number and enrollment. Charter schools have proven so popular that the institutions have even enjoyed widespread political support from both U.S. political parties, which, on nearly every other issue, remain vicious combatants.
For those following or working in the charter school industry, this trend likely comes as no surprise. The spike in popularity of the schools, although much less drastic than it has been recently, began in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
The industry also enjoys the support of national professional associations such as National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, as well as large-scale annual conventions.
But although industry watchers have been aware of charter school growth, it is instructive to begin with a quick look at how widespread that increase in popularity has been.
According to statistics published by the U.S Department of Education’s Centre for Education Statistics, the total number of U.S. public charter schools increased from 1,500 to more than 6,000 between 2000 and 2013. From 2006/2007 to 2013, the number of charter schools increased by 47%.
In regards to student population, a closer look at the numbers reveals the largest jump in enrollment was between 2010 and 2012, when the charter school population grew from 1.8 million to 2.1 million. Early estimates peg the total 2013 U.S. charter school enrollment (official numbers have not yet been released) at more than 2.3 million.
Among the states with operational charter schools, California had the largest number of students enroll in 2011-2012 at 413,000. The District of Columbia, on the other hand, had the largest number of public school students enrolled in charter schools – 29,000 students, representing 39% of the total eligible public school population in the state.
Note: only Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia have not passed legislation allowing charter schools. Maine has passed such legislation, but as yet has no operating charter schools.
Contingent on using taxpayer funds is financial scrutiny. And as the charter school industry has grown, some schools have been criticized for their spending habits. For example, nine charter schools in South Florida were shuttered in 2014 over spending “inconsistencies.”
As reported by the Sun Sentinel newspaper, which covers the South Florida region, both The Obama Academy for Boys and The Red Shoe Charter School for Girls in Fort Lauderdale were forced to close because “the schools failed to document how they spent $876,000 in public money.”
In such cases, the media routinely uses the term “transparency,” or lack thereof, to describe the financial issues plaguing some charter schools. But from an operational perspective, transparency isn’t the perfect term – rather, visibility is more accurate.
Visibility into Spending
Simply put, visibility into spending is the ability for executives, managers or administrators to see how and where the school is spending its money. The benefits of that visibility are many: detailed knowledge of departmental spending, budget tracking and a better ability to forecast for the coming financial quarter or year.
And, in cases where school spending needs to be restricted or changed, detailed spending visibility will give decision makers the data to make such decisions.
How can e-Procurement Help?
E-procurement systems – the well-designed ones, anyway – are built with spend visibility in mind. The foundation of an e-procurement system is approval routing – a built in progression of requesters and approvers that ensures all purchases are given the go-ahead by a sanctioned manager or executive (positions often referred to as approvers).
Building on the strength of approval routing is the electronic creation and cataloguing of all purchase orders and receipts in the software. By having easily accessible purchase orders and receipts – all generated with the requisite information – reporting on the purchasing and, subsequently, the financial health of a charter school becomes much more easy and transparent.
Other Beneficial Features of e-Procurement for Charter Schools
In addition to features promoting spending visibility, charter school can benefit from other e-procurement offerings. Below is just a small sample of such features and benefits:
- Having a portal/form in which users can enter information for requested purchases
- Ability to have tracking status viewable to requestors on portal
- Ability to send automatic email notifications for purchasing updates/delays
- A re-order function (pre-populated for with same order)
Boiled down, e-procurement provides an extra, and critical, level of control to a charter school’s spending. And that control will yield better visibility, which will prove invaluable during reporting periods.
Procurify’s e-procurement system has been helping charter schools such as AltSchool, Peak to Peak, and Intrinsic School have complete control over their spending, save time and money, and reduce paperwork. Learn more about what Procurify can do for your organization here, or dive in head first and start your free trial today!