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Charter and Other Operator-Run Schools

The district has three distinct types of operator-run schools – charter schools, contract schools and transformation schools.

Operator-Run Schools

Charter Schools:

Charter schools are the most common of the operator-run schools. These are public schools that each have a charter, or performance contract, detailing its program, goals, and methods of assessment. These schools are run by outside entities with increased autonomy in many areas of decision making. Charter schools are also governed by Maryland Charter Law. Additionally, there are two types of charter schools – wholly new charter schools, which are schools that were created and approved via a Board approval process, and neighborhood (or conversion) charter schools, which were existing traditional schools that converted to become charters schools through a Board approval process and meet the requirements of Maryland Public Charter Law. Neighborhood charters continue to serve a neighborhood zone.

Contract Schools:

Contract schools are citywide public schools operated under contracts with outside entities. Their budgets follow the charter school formula, and they are generally granted the same autonomies as charters and like charters are governed by a performance contract, detailing its program, goals, and methods of assessment. Contract schools may have unique enrollment processes detailed in their contracts. There are currently two contract schools operating in City Schools’ portfolio:

  • Bard Early College High School Baltimore – (special application process - families can apply by listing this school on the choice Application; however, there are additional steps involving an interview, seminar, and writing sample that determines placement and enrollment at this school)
  • Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School – (school-based lottery)
Transformation Schools:

Transformation schools are secondary public schools open to all students from across the city and operated by independent nonprofit entities. City Schools currently has three schools of this type in operation, and each has a specific theme and a unique curriculum that focuses on college, career, or alternative programming. The district has two of these schools:

  • The REACH! Partnership School – (choice process)
  • Baltimore Design School – (special application process – please visit the school’s website for details. It includes both an application and an interest survey for students interested in middle school; for high school students apply directly via an application and must be successful in a Portfolio Review that determines placement and entry to the high school)

City Schools currently has 31 charter schools within its portfolio with one more opening in Fall 2021:

Wholly-new Charter Schools:

Applying to Operator-Run Schools

While some of City Schools’ operator-run schools participate in the district’s choice process (ConneXions: A Community Based Arts School, Independence School Local I High, and The REACH! Partnership School); others admit students based on an interview process (Bard High School Early College Baltimore), a portfolio process (Baltimore Design School for its high school program), or an interest survey (Baltimore Design School for its middle school program). Learn more about the choice process or schools with special applications.

However, the majority of operator-run schools which are mostly charter schools, admit students based on a public school-based lottery. Families interested in seats at these schools must submit an application, and if the school has more applicants than they can accept, the school will hold a public lottery to randomly identify students, after accounting for legally allowable preferences, to offer seats and generate the school’s wait list.

Families must submit a student application for entry to wholly-new charter schools. This can be through a school-based lottery process or through the choice process. For neighborhood charter schools, students who live in the neighborhood zone do not need to apply via a school-based lottery and can enroll in the same way as one would enroll in a traditional neighborhood school. Students who live out of the zone who wish to attend these schools must apply via a school-based lottery process. 

School-Based Lottery Rules and Timeline

•    February 3, 2021: Deadline for accepting applications from families
•    February 8-12, 2021: Lotteries are held
•    February 24, 2021: Schools notify families of lottery results
•    April 9, 2021: Deadline for families to confirm or decline acceptance

All charter and contract schools must broadly publicize the location and timing of their lotteries, and all schools share the same deadline. Lotteries must be held in public and the results must be shared publicly. All applications submitted by the February 3 deadline become part of the publicly drawn lottery, after accounting for preferences, in random order until capacity is reached, and the remainder of the applications are placed on the wait list.

All charter schools grant preferences for siblings, children of original founders, and children of staff members that are City residents. There are some schools who have Board-approved enrollment preferences for other categories such as geographic preferences, or for students who are in certain categories, including students:

  1. with limited English proficiency, 
  2. eligible for free or reduced-price meals; 
  3. with disabilities; 
  4. classified as Homeless, as defined under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act; or
  5. residing in a geographic attendance area with a median income that is equal to or less than the median income of the county for the public charter school.

No later than February 24, 2021, family notification letters are sent to any family that applied to the school(s), and families have until April 9, 2021 to accept or decline a seat offer. Any applications received post-enrollment period are added to the wait list in the order they are received. As spaces become available at the school, they are offered to the waitlisted applicants according to their order of placement on the wait list.

Non-city residents may apply to charter and contract schools; however, these students may be enrolled only after all city residents have been offered a seat. If accepted, these families will be charged tuition by the Office of Enrollment, Choice, and Transfers.


How do I apply to a charter school?

For all charter schools except those that use the choice process, families can apply to a school by completing the online application through the school’s website or picking up a paper copy from the school.  If the charter school uses the choice process, families should add the school to their choice form along with other schools in order of their preference. Learn about the choice process

Are there any contract schools that use a school-based lottery?

Yes, families interested in Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School should apply by completing the online application on the school’s website or picking up a paper copy from the school. The answers to the questions in this FAQ also apply to Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School. Please see the school’s page for specific information about its process.

Can I apply to multiple schools?

Yes, students can apply to as many schools as serve their grade level.  However, if a student receives multiple acceptances, they must choose a single school by the confirmation deadline on April 9, 2021.

Can students who receive special education or have Individualized Learning Plans apply to charter and contract schools?

Yes. Charter and contract schools are public schools and must be open to all students and meet the needs of students with IEPS in the same manner as traditional schools. Charter and contract schools must accommodate the special education needs of students whose least restrictive environment is a general education school; this includes students with LRE-A, LRE-B and LRE-C needs. Schools cannot ask about special education status on applications to charter or contract school lotteries.

Can I attend a school-based lottery?

Yes. All school-based lotteries are held in a public forum. Lottery dates and times must be listed on the school’s application, website and in front areas of the schools.

How long does a student stay on a waitlist?

Waitlists are valid for one school year. If a student is waitlisted but not admitted during that year, they must reapply the following year to be considered for admission in the following year and participate in the lottery process again.

What is the definition of sibling?

A sibling is a brother or sister of the student, or a child who is the legal responsibility of the student’s parent or guardian. To prove sibling status, your family must submit birth certificates, adoption documents, or custody/guardianship papers for each student.

How does City Schools ensure schools conduct school-based lotteries according to district policy and guidelines?

An independent observer from the district observes each of these lotteries. The observer is there to make sure the school is conducting the lottery correctly and following all rules and policies that govern the lottery, to document the lottery procedures, and to offer guidance if a problem arises during the lottery.

Guidance for schools who run school-based lotteries

Opening a charter school

The submission window for applications to open a new charter school will be Monday, August 10 and Tuesday, August 11 from 9 a.m. to noon on each day.  Applications can not be accepted outside these times.  Applicants should plan on submitting three hard copies of the application, as well as an electronic copy on a flash drive.  This is a change from the application guidelines, which normally require submission of ten hard copies.  All other application guidelines remain the same.  Applications can be submitted to the Guilford Street entrance of the district office at 200 East North Avenue during the above times.

Please note that City Schools has submitted a request to the Maryland State Board of Education to waive the requirement for the district to conduct a charter application process for this year, given the challenges faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We expect to have a decision from the state board in late August.  If, after applications are submitted, the state board grants the waiver request and determines that City Schools does not have to hold an application process, consideration of any submitted applications will be suspended at that time.  In those circumstances, applicants will have the opportunity to resubmit during the next charter application window in March 2021, with continued opportunities for technical assistance in the interim.

If you intend to submit an application on August 10 or 11 and have not yet spoken to Trevor Roberts, please contact him at for further information.

Updated application materials are posted below.  Materials that have substantive changes are posted in both clean format and redline format, which shows changes from the prior versions.  The application was updated in February 2020 to reflect the work City Schools has done in the past year around the district’s newly adopted Equity Policy.  City Schools is committed to providing quality educational options for students of all racial and ethnic groups and students of all levels of economic advantage and disadvantage throughout the city.  The changes are meant to give applicants the opportunity to speak to their proposals’ strengths in these areas.  Likewise, the application scoring rubric has been updated to reflect these changes.

In addition to the changes described above, the application lists priorities that the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners adopted in 2019.  Applications that reflect these priorities will be given additional consideration by the Board.  These priorities are:

  • Propose to convert an already existing underperforming school by operators with a track record of strong governance and financial management practices who have a record of improving student performance for student populations that are similar to the school they are seeking to convert and have a strong track record of leadership and staff retention. Additional consideration will be given for applicants seeking to convert a traditional high school which takes in students below grade level and provides access to rigorous content that prepares students for high school, college, and career.
  • Propose to replicate high performing charter programs in areas of the city where the model does not exist.
  • Propose advanced high school programming, such as early college high school in which students can earn an Associates's Degree as well as a high school diploma, International Baccalaureate program, or robust career preparation that meets an identified CTE need or provides programming similar to the P-TECH program.
  • Propose a dual-language or late language immersion program.

If you have any questions about the charter application process, please call 410-396-8550 or email Trevor Roberts at City Schools' district office.

Charter and operator renewal

Outside operators receive term-limited charters or contracts to run charter or contract schools, generally for three to five years. As part of the routine management of these schools, an evaluation (called renewal) conducted in the final year of the contract or charter leads to a decision on whether to renew the contract or charter for a subsequent term. 

The process

The Charter and Operator-led Schools Advisory Board reviews the following to inform the renewal recommendations it makes to City Schools' CEO:

  • Information provided by the school's operator in its renewal application
  • The renewal rubric and report
  • Data prepared by City Schools
  • School effectiveness reviews

These materials and the advisory board's recommendation are summarized in a renewal report for each school. (Find the most recent reports linked on schools' profile pages and archived reports in the renewal report archives) After review by the CEO, renewal recommendations are presented to the Board of School Commissioners for further review. According to policy, the Board may then vote for full renewal (another five-year contract term), partial renewal (a three-year period) or not to renew the operator's contract or charter.

Criteria and measures

Maryland law and Board policy establish criteria for renewal. Contract and charter schools are evaluated on multiple measures including, but not limited to,

  • Student achievement — performance on state assessments, growth measures, unique indicators, and fidelity to charter (accounting for at least 50% of the renewal score)
  • School climate — attendance, suspensions, enrollment, graduation and dropout rates, student choice data, and school survey results
  • Financial management and governance — annual audits, budget submission, grants management, and board documentation
  • Effective management — academic programming for special student populations and compliance with laws, rules, policies, and regulations
Improving the process

The Renewal Stakeholders Working Group (including school operators from a range of school types, City Schools staff, and representatives of the Maryland Charter School Network) met regularly in 2011-12 to advise on development of a fair, transparent, and rigorous evaluation process and rubric to reflect the unique nature and contributions of schools with outside operators. Since that time, district staff confer with key stakeholders following each renewal period to identify areas in which the process could be strengthened while also maintaining a level of predictability for schools up for renewal in the following school year.