Measuring Up

 



Utah

TOTAL SCORE:
146 out of 240

Rank: 23 out of 44

Year Charter School Law Was Enacted: 1998
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2016-17: 125
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2016-17: 71,500

Utah’s law allows multiple authorizing entities and provides sufficient accountability to charter public schools, but it contains a cap on charter school growth and provides inadequate autonomy and inequitable funding to charter schools.

Potential areas for improvement include ensuring authorizing accountability, beefing up the requirements for renewals, ensuring transparency regarding educational service providers, providing more operational autonomy to charter schools, ensuring equitable operational funding, and strengthening accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.

Do Utah's laws align to the model law?

Model Law Component

Matches

Utah's Charter Law

Score

1. No Caps

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law provides that the enrollment in charter schools in the 2015-16 school year may increase up to 8,450 students over the projected enrollment of 66,578 in the 2014-15 school year.

In approving an increase in charter school enrollment capacity for new charter schools and expanding charter schools, the state board of education shall give high priority to approving a new charter school or a charter school expansion in a high growth area (i.e., an area of the state where school enrollment is significantly increasing or projected to significantly increase) and low priority to approving a new charter school or a charter school expansion in an area where student enrollment is stable or declining.

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1A. No numeric or geographic limits are placed on the number of charter schools or students.

1B. If caps exist, there is room for growth.

2. A Variety of Charter Public Schools Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Utah law allows new start-ups and public school conversions.

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2A. New startups.

2B. Public school conversions.

3. Multiple Authorizers Available

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law permits local school boards, the state charter school board, and designated higher education institutions to authorize charter schools, subject to state board of education approval. There is authorizing activity within each of these options.

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3A. The state allows two or more authorizing options (e.g., school districts and a state charter schools commission) for each applicant with direct application to each authorizer.

4. Authorizer & Overall Program Accountability System Required

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law includes a small number of the elements of the model law's authorizer and overall program accountability system. While the law does not require the legislature and governor to regularly review the performance of the state charter school board and designated higher education institutions as authorizers, they can do so at any time. In addition, the ability of the state charter school board and designated higher education institutions to continue authorizing can be removed by the legislature and governor (the entities that gave them that authority).

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4A. Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.

4B. Application process for other eligible authorizing entities (except a state charter schools commission).

4C. Authorizer submission of annual report.

4D. The ability for the state to conduct a review of an authorizer’s performance.

4E. The ability for the state to sanction an authorizer for poor performance, including suspending an authorizer’s authority to approve new schools.

4F. Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

5. Adequate Authorizer Funding

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Utah funds its state charter board through an annual legislative appropriation each year. The amount varies but is generally considered adequate for the board’s basic work. The law does not provide for funding for local school board authorizers, but permits higher education institutions to charge up to 3% of the revenue the charter school receives from the state in the current fiscal year in the first two years that a charter school is in operation as an annual oversight fee. Beginning with the third year that a charter school is in operation, an annual oversight fee may not exceed the product of 1% of the revenue a charter school receives from the state in the current fiscal year.

Utah law requires all state agencies including the state charter board, higher education institutions, school districts, and charter schools to publicly report their expenditures.

Utah law specifies that the state charter board may provide services to its charter schools at the discretion of the charter school and that a district-authorized school may contract with the district for services, but the law does not address higher education authorizers and does not clearly prohibit authorizers from requiring schools to purchase services from them.

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5A. A uniform statewide formula that guarantees annual authorizer funding that is not subject to annual legislative appropriations.

5B. Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.

5C. Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.

5D. Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

6. Transparent Charter Application, Review, and Decisionmaking Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Utah law sets forth application elements for all schools. The law states application requirements specific to conversion schools.

Regulations allow existing charter schools authorized by the state charter board to apply for up to three satellite campuses and set forth additional application requirements for such campuses. These provisions aren’t applicable to charter schools authorized by local school boards or higher educational institutions.

Utah law requires authorizers to establish and make the following items public before accepting a charter school application: application requirements in accordance with state law; application process, including timelines, in accordance with state law; and, minimum academic, financial, and enrollment standards.

Utah law requires the state charter school board to request individuals, groups of individuals, or not-for-profit legal entities to submit an application to the state charter school board to establish a charter school that employs new and creative methods to meet the unique learning styles and needs of students, such as a military charter school, a charter school whose mission is to enhance learning opportunities for students at risk of academic failure, a charter school whose focus is career and technical education, a single gender charter school, or a charter school with an international focus that provides opportunities for the exchange of students or teachers. In addition to these types of schools, the law provides that the state charter school board shall request applications for other types of charter schools that meet the unique learning styles and needs of students. These provisions aren’t applicable to charter schools authorized by local school boards or higher educational institutions.

In approving an increase in charter school enrollment capacity for new charter schools and expanding charter schools, the state board of education shall give high priority to approving a new charter school or a charter school expansion in a high growth area (i.e., an area of the state where school enrollment is significantly increasing or projected to significantly increase) and low priority to approving a new charter school or a charter school expansion in an area where student enrollment is stable or declining.

Utah law requires authorizers to make charter approval and denial decisions in a public meeting and state reasons for denial in writing. It allows denied applicants to appeal to the state board of education.

While the law does not require authorizers to thoroughly evaluate each application including an in-person interview and a public meeting, the state charter school board implements these measures in practice (and it is the primary authorizer in the state).

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6A. Application elements for all schools.

6B. Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.

6C. Additional application elements specific to using educational service providers.

6D. Additional application elements specific to replications.

6E. Requirement for thorough evaluation of each application, including an in-person interview and a public meeting.

6F. Application approval criteria.

6G. All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

7. Performance-Based Charter Contracts Required

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Utah law requires a charter agreement to be executed following the approval of a charter application. The law requires the agreement to describe the rights and responsibilities of the school and the authorizer.

The law requires the agreement to include minimum financial standards for operating the charter school and minimum standards for student achievement, but it doesn’t require the agreement to define academic and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.

The law does not limit the duration of charter terms. As such, charters do not expire in Utah but they may be revoked.

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7A. With such contracts being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.

7B. With such contracts defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.

7C. With such contracts defining academic, financial, and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.

7D. With such contracts providing an initial term of five operating years.

8. Comprehensive Charter School Monitoring and Data Collection Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Utah law requires each authorizer to visit its charter schools at least once during their first and fifth years of operation, provide a written report to each school after each visit, and establish a process for reviewing every charter school once every five years. It also requires local school board and higher education institution authorizers to annually review and evaluate the performance of charter schools and hold them accountable for performance.

The law requires charter school governing boards to establish an audit committee and requires the school’s audit committee. For state-chartered schools, regulations require an accountability review process including the creation of charter school accountability plans, annual review of student achievement, quarterly review of financial data, annual site visits or random audits, and other forms of regular ongoing oversight.

The law does not require authorizers to produce and publish annual school performance reports. However, Utah law requires charter schools to file the same annual reports required of other public schools in the state, including an annual financial audit report filed with the state auditor. These reports are public.

The law requires an authorizer to notify a charter school’s governing board in writing of any noncompliance deficiencies and provide reasonable opportunity to remedy the deficiency. If the school does not remedy the deficiency within the established timeline, the law permits the authorizer to remove a school director or finance officer, remove governing board members, appoint an interim director or mentor to work with the charter school, or terminate the charter. The state regulations also specify sanctions short of revocation that the state charter board may exercise.

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8A. Required annual school performance reports.

8B. Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., generally accepted accounting principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).

8C. Authorizer authority to conduct oversight activities.

8D. Authorizer notification to its schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.

8E. Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.

8F. Authorizer may not request duplicative data submission from its charter schools and may not use performance framework to create cumbersome reporting requirements.

9. Clear Processes for Renewal, Nonrenewal, and Revocation Decisions

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Utah law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions regarding clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions.

Charter contracts in Utah do not expire or require renewal; they perpetuate indefinitely unless revoked. Therefore, the law does not set forth requirements, criteria, processes, or other guidance for renewal or non-renewal. The law sets forth general grounds for revocation of a charter.

Utah law requires an authorizer planning to revoke a charter to notify the school’s governing body and, if the charter school is a qualifying charter school with outstanding bonds issued in accordance with the state’s Charter School Credit Enhancement Program, the Utah Charter School Finance Authority in writing of the planned termination and the reasons for it. It also requires the authorizer to give the school an informal hearing, with timely notice, if requested. If the authorizer proposes to terminate the charter of a qualifying charter school with outstanding bonds issued in accordance with the state’s Charter School Credit Enhancement Program, the law requires the authorizer to conduct a hearing. The law provides that an authorizer may not terminate the charter of a qualifying charter school with outstanding bonds issued in accordance with the state’s Charter School Credit Enhancement Program without mutual agreement of the Utah Charter School Finance Authority and the authorizer.

The law requires revocation decisions to be made in a public meeting, with reasons for revocation stated in writing. It allows charter schools to appeal termination decisions to the state board of education.

The law sets forth essential steps for charter schools to follow in the event of closure. The law does not explicitly state the authorizer’s role and responsibility in overseeing school closure to ensure the protocol is followed, but it does require the authorizer to ensure the completion of a closing school’s final audit.

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9A. Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.

9B. Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.

9C. Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.

9D. Ability to have a differentiated process for renewal of high-performing charter schools.

9E. Authorizers must use clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.

9F. Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract.

9G. Requirement that authorizers close chronically low-performing charter schools unless exceptional circumstances exist.

9H. Authorizers must have the authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.

9I. Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or nonrenewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.

9J. Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).

9K. All charter renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions must be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for nonrenewals and revocations in writing.

9L. Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.

9M. Any transfer of charter contracts from one authorizer to another are only allowed if they are approved by the state.

10. Transparency Regarding Educational Service Providers (ESPs) Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

The law permits charter schools to contract with all types of educational service providers. However, there are no statutory provisions guiding any charter application requirements for educational service providers, performance contracts between the school and service provider, authorizer approval of contracts, and school governing boards operating completely independent of any educational service provider.

Although the law does not directly address potential conflicts of interest between a charter school board and service provider, it does prohibit a charter school officer or relative of a charter school officer from having a financial interest in a contract or other transaction involving the charter school, except for a reasonable contract of employment. This prohibition addresses some but not all conflicts of interest that might arise in the context of service contracts.

Utah law requires criminal background checks on all contract employees who are employees of a staffing service or other entity who work at a public or private school under a contract.

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10A. All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and nonprofit) are allowed to operate all or parts of schools.

10B. The charter application requires (1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, and (2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.

10C. A performance contract is required between the independent charter school board and the ESP, with such contract approved by the school’s authorizer.

10D. School governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any ESP, individuals compensated by an ESP are prohibited from serving as voting members on such boards, and existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.

10E. Provides that charter school governing boards must have access to ESP records necessary to oversee the ESP contract.

10F. An ESP must annually provide information to its charter school governing board on how that ESP spends public funding it receives when the ESP is performing a public function under applicable state law.

10G. Requires that similar criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to other public schools shall also be mandatory for on-site employees of ESPs who regularly come into contact with students.

11. Fiscally and Legally Autonomous Schools with Independent Charter Public School Boards

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law requires charter schools to be operated by independent governing boards.

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11A. Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds; incur debt; and pledge, assign, or encumber assets as collateral).

11B. Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).

11C. Independent school governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

12. Clear Student Enrollment and Lottery Procedures

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Utah law requires that charter schools be open to all resident students in the state.

The law requires that if a school is oversubscribed, students must be selected on a random basis. It also notes that a charter school may not discriminate in its admission policies or practices on the same basis as other public schools may not discriminate in their admission policies and practices.

The law requires enrollment preference for previously enrolled students within conversions.

The law allows the following optional enrollment preferences: child or grandchild of an individual who has actively participated in the development of the charter school, a sibling of a student presently enrolled in the charter school (but not required), a child of an employee of the charter school, students matriculating between charter schools offering similar programs that are governed by the same governing body, students matriculating from one charter school to another pursuant to a matriculation agreement between the charter schools that is approved by the state charter school board, and students who reside within the school district in which the charter school is located, the municipality in which the charter school is located, or a two-mile radius from the charter school.

The law provides that a charter school whose mission is to enhance learning opportunities for refugees or children of refugee families may give an enrollment preference to refugees or children of refugee families. It also provides that a charter school whose mission is to enhance learning opportunities for English language learners may give an enrollment preference to English language learners.

The law provides that a charter school may weight its lottery to give a slightly better chance of admission to educationally disadvantaged students, including low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, neglected or delinquent students, and homeless students.

The law provides that a charter school that is approved by the state board of education after May 13, 2014 and is located in a high growth area (i.e., an area of the state where school enrollment is significantly increasing or projected to significantly increase) must give an enrollment preference to students who reside within a two-mile radius of the school. This requirement does not apply to a school that was approved without a high priority status pursuant to state law.

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12A. Open enrollment to any student in the state.

12B. Anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.

12C. Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions and for prior-year students within charter schools.

12D. Lottery requirements.

13. Automatic Exemptions from Many State and District Laws and Regulations

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law provides automatic exemptions from a small number of laws, but requires charter schools to apply for waivers for most exemptions.

The law requires charter school teachers to be either state-licensed or on the basis of demonstrated competency, qualified to teach under alternative certification or authorization programs.

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13A. Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.

13B. Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

14. Automatic Collective Bargaining Exemption

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law provides that charter schools are exempt from district collective bargaining agreements.

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14A. Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

14B. Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

15. Multischool Charter Contracts and/or Multicharter Contract Boards Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Regulations allow existing charter schools authorized by the state charter board to apply for up to three satellite schools by amending the original charter. Regulations also state that a satellite school shall be independently accountable for financial reporting and its own AYP report. These provisions aren’t applicable to schools authorized by local school boards or higher education institutions.

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15A. An independent charter school board may oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

15B. An independent charter school board may hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

16. Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Eligibility and Access

weight = 1 | Possible total = 4

The law provides that charter school students are eligible to participate in all interscholastic leagues, competitions, awards, scholarships, and recognition programs available to noncharter public school students. The law is silent on charter school employee eligibility for public educator recognition programs.

Utah law allows charter school students to participate, on a state-established fee basis, in extracurricular activities at district schools, if those activities are not offered by the charter school.

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16A. Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all extracurricular and interscholastic activities available to noncharter public school students and employees.

16B. Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extracurricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at noncharter public schools.

17. Clear Provisions Regarding Special Education Responsibilities

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Utah law provides that a charter school is the LEA for special education purposes. In addition to federal funding, Utah law provides funding for special education students.

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17A. Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.

17B. Clarity regarding the flow of federal, state, and local special education funds to the designated LEA.

17C. Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).

17D. Clarity that charter schools have access to all regional and state services and supports available to traditional districts.

18. Equitable Operational Funding and Equal Access to All State and Federal Categorical Funding

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

The funding formula in law does not currently provide charter schools with equitable operational funding, with the percentage of district per-pupil operating funds that charter schools receive fluctuating from year to year.

Utah law provides that all charter schools are eligible to receive federal funds if they meet all applicable federal requirements and comply with relevant federal regulations and that local board-authorized schools must receive funding on the same basis that other district schools receive funding.

In a national study of charter school funding (University of Arkansas, Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands, 2014), Utah charter schools were receiving on average $6,069 per pupil in public funds, while district public schools would have received $7,476 for those students. As a result, the state's charter schools were receiving $1,407 per pupil – or 18.8% - less than what the district public schools would have received for those students. This figure includes all sources of funding, and analysis reveals some continued inequities for both operational and capital funding (see component 19 for information on capital issues).

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18A. Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.

18B. Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.

18C. Funding for transportation similar to school districts.

18D. Annual report offering district and charter public school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements.

19. Equitable Access to Capital Funding and Facilities

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

As part of the local revenue replacement program, Utah law provides an additional annual per-pupil appropriation for charter schools to replace some of the local property tax revenue that traditionally covers maintenance and operation, capital projects, and debt service. The law requires that a minimum of 10% of these monies must be expended for facilities. This facilities dedication was roughly $170 per pupil in Fiscal Year 2012. However, many schools use more than the minimum of 10% of these monies to cover facilities costs. In 2016, Utah revised the way the charter school levy funds are obtained, and secured $20 million in additional funding for such schools (which is estimated to be about $193 more per charter school student).

Utah law provides a charter school revolving loan fund that provides loans to charter schools for the costs of constructing, renovating, and purchasing charter school facilities. There is approximately $6 million in this fund.

Utah law creates the state charter school financing authority for charter facility financing. It provides charter schools with access to tax-exempt bond financing through issuers at the county and municipal levels.

Utah law creates the charter school credit enhancement program to assist qualified charter schools in obtaining favorable financing by providing the state’s moral obligation and providing a means of replenishing a qualifying charter school’s debt service reserve fund. The state appropriated $3 million to this program in FY 2013.

Utah law notes that for purposes of a property tax exemption, a charter school is considered to be a school district.

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Facilities Funding

19A. A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.

19B. A state grant program for charter school facilities.

19C. Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to noncharter public schools.


Access to Public Space

19D. A requirement for districts to provide school district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that school’s students reside in that district.

19E. Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.


Access to Financing Tools

19F. A state loan program for charter school facilities.

19G. Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority.

19H. Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms.

19I. The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund.

19J. The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding and mill levy requests.

19K. A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.


Other

19L. Charter schools allowed to contract at or below fair market value with a school district, a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of facility for a school building.

19M. Certain entities allowed to provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.

19N. Charter school facilities exempt from ad valorem taxes and other assessment fees not applicable to other public schools.

20. Access to Relevant Employee Retirement Systems

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Utah law allows charter schools to opt into or out of the state retirement system.

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20A. Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.

20B. Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).

21. Full-Time Virtual Charter School Provisions (if such schools allowed by state)

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for full-time virtual charter schools. Utah law provides a performance-based funding system for full-time virtual charter schools.

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21A. An authorizing structure whereby full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may be approved only by an authorizer with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority, full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from one school district may be authorized by that school district, and a cap is placed on the total amount of funding that an authorizer may withhold from a full-time virtual charter school.

21B. Legally permissible criteria and processes for enrollment based on the existence of supports needed for student success.

21C. Enrollment level provisions that establish maximum enrollment levels for each year of a charter contract, with any increases in enrollment from one year to the next based on whether the school meets its performance requirements.

21D. Accountability provisions that include virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, and attrition.

21E. Funding levels per student based on costs proposed and justified by the operators.

21F. Performance-based funding whereby full-time virtual charter schools are funded via a performance-based funding system based on meeting the accountability performance provisions.