Charter School Growth & the Case for e-Procurement

Charter schools have seen explosive growth in the U.S., 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.”

The landscape of public charter schools

Across the majority of the United States, public charter schools are rapidly growing in both number and enrolment. 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 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.

The number of charter schools across America

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 2007 to 2013, the number of charter schools increased by 47 percent.

Not bad.

In regards to student population, a closer look at the numbers reveals the largest jump in enrolment 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 enrolment at more than 2.3 million.

Among the states with operational charter schools, California had the largest number of students enrol 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.

The pain faced by charter schools

Contingent on using taxpayer funds is financial scrutiny. And as the charter school industry has grown, some schools were criticized for spending. For example, nine charter schools in South Florida closed over spending “inconsistencies” in 2014.

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. This is because “the schools failed to document how they spent $876,000 in public money.”

Getting visibility over charter school 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. For example, detailed knowledge of departmental spending, budget tracking and a better ability to forecast for the coming financial quarter or year.

And, in cases that require restrictions to school spending, decision makers can do so using data to inform their process.

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. This includes a built in progression of requesters and approvers.

As well as good approval routings, purchasing software let’s you capture the necessary paperwork required for every purchase. This helps a charter school become financial viable and fiscally responsible.

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.