Most charter schools (60.6%) are freestanding, meaning they manage themselves. The remaining charter schools are part of a charter network and use an outside management organization to help them with a variety of tasks, including curriculum, back-office support, and media presence. Management structures vary considerably between organizations. Some are directly involved in day-to-day operations while others have a more hands-off approach.

The National Alliance considers an organization to be a management organization if it manages at least three schools, serves a minimum of 300 students, and is a separate business entity from the schools it manages. There are two types of management organizations, charter management organizations (CMOs) and education management organizations (EMOs).

CMOs are 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Typically, but not always, they are more involved in front-end work with their schools and provide more comprehensive support. CMOs manage 29% of all charter schools, with KIPP and IDEA managing almost 12% of those schools.

Manager Types

Note: Data comes from 2018-19 and depicts the management organization types that were present in the state at that time. This map does not depict the management types that were permitted. MT, ND, SD, NE, KY, WV, and VT did not have any charter schools in the 2018-19 school year.

EMOs are management organizations with a for-profit tax status. A nonprofit charter school governing board that wants to partner with an EMO may apply to an authorizer for a charter. If the application is approved, the board enters into a contract with the for-profit company to manage or provide other services for the school. The board may fire the EMO at any time and still retain the charter contract. Seven of the 45 states (including the territories and D.C.) have laws that partially or fully prohibit charter school governing boards from partnering with EMOs in any capacity. Additionally, these companies do not quality for Charter School Program funds. EMOs manage about 10% of all charter schools. Academica manages 20% of these schools, making them the largest EMO operator by a significant margin.

Table 5.1: Charter Management Organization Share 2018-19

Table 5.2: Counts of Management Organizations by Number of Schools They Manage

  • Proportionally there are more CMOs that operate 5 or fewer schools (57.8 percent) than EMOs that operate 5 or fewer schools (41.3 percent).
  • EMOs that operate 26 or more charter schools account for 17.4 percent of all EMOs whereas CMOs that operate 26 or more charter schools account for 5.6 percent of all CMOs.

Table 5.3: Locale by Management Type School Share 

Table 5.4: Management Type by Locale School Share

  • In all locale types, a majority of schools are Freestanding, followed by CMO-managed schools, and lastly EMO-managed schools.
  • Note: Some of the rows may not add up to 100% because some schools are in a locale labelled “Unknown.”
  • CMO-managed schools and Freestanding schools are most likely to be in urban areas.
  • EMO-managed schools are mostly split between suburban and urban areas.
  • Towns and rural areas comprise the smallest portions of each management locale. No management type has more than 15% of its schools in a rural area, nor more than 10% of its schools in a town.

Table 5.5: Top 10 CMOs by Enrollment, 2018-19

Table 5.6: Top 10 EMOs by Enrollment

Note: Inspire Charter Schools is a management organization for virtual schools. While the number of schools is low, this network enrolls thousands of students and has many student centers across the state.

  • KIPP and Academica are the largest management organizations, both enrolling over 92,000 students.
  • Overall, these twenty organizations enroll 21.5 percent of all charter school students (9.4 in top 10 CMOs and 12.1 in top 10 EMOs).
  • The top ten CMOs account for 30.9 percent of all students enrolled in schools managed by CMOs.
  • The top ten EMOs account for 83.2 percent of all students enrolled in schools managed by EMOs.
Related Datasets

Table 5.7: Student Demographics by Management Type

  • CMOs have a higher share of Black and Hispanic students than EMOs.
  • Freestanding schools and schools managed by EMOs have the highest share of White students.
  • Black students make up over 20% of the student population managed by both management types.
Related Datasets

About the Authors

Adam Gerstenfeld
Adam Gerstenfeld

Manager, Data and Research

Before joining the team, Adam was a 1st-grade teacher at Lenora B. Smith Elementary in Miami, Florida where he taught reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. Adam received his bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Florida, where he was a radio and television producer for the local NPR and PBS stations. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in government analytics from Johns Hopkins University.

Cynthia Xu
Yueting Xu

Data and Research Specialist

Yueting (Cynthia) worked as an ESL teacher 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, served as a research fellow in the university writing center, and conducted research on educational opportunities for underserved youth. She received her master’s degree from University of Pennsylvania with dual majors in ESL education and statistical measurement & research.