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An educational management company is a for-profit organization that provides instructional and operational services to charter schools, private schools, and contract schools (also known as “partnership schools,” these are public schools performing so poorly that the state or school district turns their management over to private companies, institutes of higher learning, or other agencies). Such a company’s clients may include non-profit organizations, municipalities, and traditional public school agencies (state and district boards of education).

The services offered by an educational management company include writing an application to open a charter school and assisting in the process of its review by the chartering authority (usually a school district, state board of education, an institute of higher learning, or a state-authorized body solely responsible for the regulation and monitoring of charter schools); obtaining financing for a facility and assisting in the coordination of its construction or renovation; recruiting, hiring, and training the instructional staff and providing ongoing professional development; marketing the school and coordinating student enrollment; implementing a curriculum and formally assessing its success; sourcing furniture, fixtures, equipment, and technology services; providing financial management services; acting as a liaison between the governing board of the school and the chartering authority in matters of charter compliance, amendment, and renewal; overseeing the day-to-day operation of the school; and writing grant proposals on behalf of the school.

There is a great deal of contention surrounding the existence of such companies; much of the debate is tied into the controversial subjects of charter schools and privatization of public schools. Some critics of educational management companies argue that they are taking money away from traditional public schools and pocketing taxpayers’ money. Other detractors believe that there is no way to create a successful independent business model in the K-12 market. Even some charter school proponents are avidly against educational management companies, fearing that they compromise the success of smaller "mom and pop" charter schools by hoarding public resources allocated to schools of choice.

Educational management companies are quick to defend themselves from such detraction. Charter schools and contract schools are public schools, and taxpayer money that is allocated to education and distributed based on a formula determined by state legislation "follows the child" to whichever public school he or she attends. Management fees are generally not paid unless a school is cash positive, and several conditions usually exist for their disbursement (e.g., specific levels of student and school performance; teacher and student retention rates; and percentages of student, parent, and teacher satisfaction). The employees of such companies are often former superintendents, school board staff, principals, and teachers who are invested in high student performance and have the experience to facilitate school success; smaller independent charter schools often fail due to lack of resources and leverage to obtain funding for facilities and operations.

Several parties embrace the services offered by educational management companies. School districts suffering from overcrowding but lacking the capital outlay to build a new school greatly appreciate the assistance of private companies and their resources. Municipalities have issued formal requests for proposals from private companies and, after accepting a bid, have worked in cooperation with educational management companies to develop new public schools in their communities. Governing boards of existing charter schools have sought the assistance of private companies to strengthen the management and performance of schools at risk of not meeting the accountability measures outlined in their charter contracts.

The enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act has raised the bar for all public schools; many educational reforms will be enforced in the next few years. The legislation’s focus on higher accountability and parental choice will have a strong impact on the educational climate of the country. Educational management companies, which may be considered as independent regional or national school districts, will come under similar scrutiny as their traditional counterparts. As schools of choice continue to develop, and with the imminent reconstitution of schools that continue to fail, educational management companies may begin to play a stronger role in public education. Or they may fail completely. Only time will tell.

Educational management companies are also referred to as EMOs – educational management organizations. Some such companies:

  • Edison Schools
  • Chancellor Beacon Academies
  • Leona Schools
  • Charter Schools USA
  • Victory Schools

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