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.

Most charter schools (60.5%) are freestanding, meaning they manage themselves. The remaining 39.5% of charter schools are managed by external organizations. These management organizations may help schools with a variety of tasks and operations, including curriculum, back-office support, and media presence. Management structures and the relationships these external partners have with their schools vary considerably among 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 account for 29% of charter schools nationwide, while EMOs manage just 10.5% of charter schools.

CMOs are 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Typically, these organizations are very involved in direct, front-end work with their schools and provide broad, comprehensive support. Schools working with these organizations often appear as unified “networks” with similar missions, educational models, curriculum, etc. It should be noted, however, that this is not always the case, and some CMOs may operate differently. CMOs manage 29% of all charter schools, with the KIPP Foundation and IDEA Public Charter Schools managing almost 12% of those schools.

EMOs are management organizations with a for-profit tax status, although it is incorrect to label these schools as “for-profit.” 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. 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 fire the EMO at any time and still retain the charter contract. Seven of the 45 charter school states (including territories and D.C.) have laws that partially or fully prohibit charter school governing boards from partnering with EMOs in any capacity. These companies also do not qualify 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

Overall, CMOs tend to be smaller organizations than EMOs. There are proportionally more CMOs that operate 5 or fewer schools (57.8%) than there are EMOs that operate 5 or fewer schools (41.3%). Very large organizations are more prevalent among EMOs. Approximately 17% of EMOs manage 26 or more charter schools, whereas only 5.6% of CMOs operate 26 or more charter schools.

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

Across all locale types, Freestanding charter schools are the most common, followed by CMO-managed schools, and finally, EMO-managed schools. CMO-managed and Freestanding charter schools are most often found in urban areas, while most EMO-managed schools are located in either suburban or urban areas. Towns and rural areas held the smallest share of schools for each management type. No management type hosts more than 15% of its schools in a rural area, and neither has more than 10% of its schools in a town.

Table 5.3: Locale by Management Type School Share 

Table 5.4: Management Type by Locale School Share

Overall, the twenty organizations listed in the tables below enroll 21.5% of all charter school students nationwide. The top 10 largest CMOs enroll 9.4% of students, and the top 10 largest EMOs enroll 12.1% of students. However, enrollment at CMO-managed schools is distributed across a large pool of organizations beyond the top 10. Of all charter school students attending a CMO, only 30.9% attend one of the top 10 largest CMOs listed here, meaning most attend a school managed by a smaller organization. For EMOs, however, student enrollment is highly concentrated among only a handful of management organizations. The top 10 EMOs listed here account for 83.2% of all charter students enrolled at schools managed by EMOs. This is likely due to the smaller total number of EMOs compared to CMOs.

As of the most recent school year, the KIPP Foundation is the largest CMO in the United States, and Academica is the largest EMO. Both organizations enroll over 92,000 students.

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.

Related Tables:

CMOs enroll the highest share of Black and Hispanic students across management types, as well as the highest proportion of students of color overall. Freestanding charter schools and schools managed by EMOs enroll the highest share of White students. Black students make up over 20% of the student population managed by all three management types, and Hispanic students make up more than approximately 30% of students across all three management types.


Table 5.7: Student Demographics by Management Type


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.