Most charter schools (65%) are freestanding, meaning they manage school operations themselves. The remaining 35% of charter schools contract with external organizations for management-related services. These management organizations help schools with a variety of tasks and operations, including but not limited to staffing, curriculum, services for students with disabilities, facilities, and back-office support. Management structures and the relationships these external partners have with their schools vary considerably. In some cases, the management organizations provide limited services; in other cases, they may provide nearly all management-related services and directly hire educational staff.
The National Alliance considers an organization to be a management organization if it: (1) manages at least three schools, (2) serves a minimum of 300 students, and (3) is a business entity separate from the schools it manages. The two types of management organizations are charter management organizations (CMOs) and education management organizations (EMOs). CMOs account for 26% of charter schools nationwide, while EMOs manage 9% of charter schools.
CMOs are nonprofit organizations. Schools working with these organizations often appear as unified networks with similar missions, educational models, and curriculum. However, this is not always the case, and some CMOs may operate differently. In the 2020-21 school year, CMOs managed 26% of all charter schools.
EMOs are management organizations with a for-profit tax status, although it is incorrect to label the schools that contract with them as “for-profit.” Both charter schools and traditional districts contract with EMOs for a wide range of services. A new charter school governing board that wants to partner with an EMO for a new school applies to an authorizer for a charter. If the authorizer approves the application, the board enters into a contract with the for-profit company to manage or provide other services for the school. Many EMOs serve as vendors for specific management-related services, such as back-office support, hosting web platforms, or staffing assistance. The charter school governing board may end their contract with the EMO at any time and still retain the charter. Seven of the 47 places (including states, territories, and D.C.) with charter school laws partially or fully prohibit charter school governing boards from partnering with EMOs in any capacity. EMOs are also prohibited from receiving federal Charter Schools Program funds. One company, Academica, manages 22% of these schools, making it the largest EMO operator by a significant margin.
Table 5.1: Charter Management Organization Share 2020-21
|Management Type||2020-21 Schools and Campuses||School Share||2020-21 Enrollment||Enrollment Share|
Overall, CMOs tend to be smaller organizations than EMOs. Proportionally more CMOs operate five or fewer schools (46%) than EMOs that operate five or fewer schools (44%). Very large organizations are more prevalent among EMOs. Approximately 14% of EMOs manage 26 or more charter schools, whereas only 5% of CMOs operate 26 or more charter schools.
Table 5.2: Counts of Management Organizations by Number of Schools They Manage
|Management Type||3 to 5 Schools and Campuses||6 to 15 schools and campuses||16 to 25 schools and campuses||26+ schools and campuses|
Across all locale types, freestanding charter schools are by far the most common, followed by CMO-managed schools, and finally by EMO-managed schools. Towns and rural areas held the smallest share of schools for each management type. CMOs and EMOs continue to operate mainly in suburban and urban communities, with neither serving more than 15% of rural or town schools.
Table 5.3: Locale by Management Type School Share
|Locale||CMO School and Campus Share||EMO School and Campus Share||Freestanding School and Campus Share|
The majority of CMO-managed and freestanding charter schools operate in urban areas, while EMO-managed schools serve suburban and urban communities more or less equally.
Table 5.4: Management Type by Locale School Share
|Managent Type||Rural School and Campus Share||Suburban School and Campus Share||Town School and Campus Share||Urban School and Campus Share|
The top 10 largest CMOs manage schools that enroll 8% of students, and the top 10 largest EMOs manage schools that enroll 11% of students. Overall, these 20 organizations support schools that enroll 19% of all charter school students nationwide. A total of 219 CMOs and 43 EMOs served charter schools in 2020-21. The top 10 EMOs listed below account for 87% of all charter students enrolled at schools managed by EMOs. For CMOs, that number is 37%.
As of the most recent school year, the KIPP Foundation is the largest CMO in the United States, and Academica is the largest EMO. KIPP as an organization supports schools that enroll more than 108,000 students across 23 states. Academica serves just over 90,000 students across 11 states.
Table 5.5: Top 10 CMOs by Enrollment, 2020-21
|CMO Name||2020-21 Schools and Campuses||2020-21 Enrollment|
|IDEA Public Schools||98||60639|
|Harmony Public Schools||60||36963|
|Great Hearts Academies||30||21704|
|Success Charter Network||34||21058|
|International American Education Federation Inc DBA International Leadership of Texas||32||20762|
|Responsive Education Solutions||71||20580|
|BASIS Charter Schools||27||19756|
Table 5.6: Top 10 EMOs by Enrollment
|EMO Name||2020-21 Schools and Campuses||2020-21 Students|
|Charter Schools USA||69||63603|
|National Heritage Academies||88||60197|
|The Leona Group, L.L.C.||45||13010|
|Charter School Associates, Inc.||18||11674|
CMOs support schools that enroll the highest share of Black and Hispanic students across management types, as well as the highest proportion of students of color overall. Black students make up 31% of the student population managed by CMOs, and Hispanic students make up 45% of students in CMO managed schools.
Table 5.7: Student Demographics by Management Type
About the Authors
Director, Data and Research
Before joining the National Alliance in 2017, Jamison worked as a financial and small-business consultant in Pittsburgh, Boston, and the greater New York area. Jamison studied at Carnegie Mellon University and Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany. He is a part of a founding group for a classical charter school in Washington, DC. In his free time, Jamison researches school curricula, pedagogies, and charter school models.
Yueting "Cynthia" Xu
Senior Manager, Data and Research
Yueting "Cynthia" worked as an ESL instructor and education consultant in Philadelphia prior to joining the research team at the National Alliance. During her undergraduate years at Sun Yat-sen University, she studied English language & literature and Economics. She received her master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania with dual majors in ESL education and statistical measurement & research.