Smarter Charter: 5 Tips for Charter School Financial Compliance

For many charter schools, compliance is one of the biggest concerns, and rightfully so.

Even though most charter school officials are conscientious and make a genuine effort to meet compliance regulations at every turn, the sheer amount of regulations that must be adhered to can make the constant process very difficult.

That’s why we at HSS have created this list of some of the key areas of compliance for charter schools, and have used our 30 years of working with schools and Education programs of all kinds to include some helpful advice on how to navigate more effectively each general area of regulation in an organized manner.

General State/Federal

When addressing state or federal compliance regulations, the key is accuracy. Most of the reports you create to cover the areas of compliance in this article will end up going, in one way or another, to government agencies, which means ensuring the accuracy of your data is critical.

The reason accurate data is so important is that if you were to make even a minor error, the process for correcting the mistake often is longer and more involved due to the fact that you can’t reach out to a government agency as easily as you might be able to reach out to, for example, your authorizer.

This is especially true if you operate charter schools in more than one state. Since each state has its own compliance laws, you need to be very careful to make sure your numbers are accurate or you could end up dealing with a very frustrating situation.

In order to help ensure accuracy, keep in mind that the fewer times you need to move or re-enter data, the less likely you’ll be to accidentally type a wrong number or create an error.

So, if possible, try to keep your data-entry process straightforward with as few steps as possible. Get the raw data from those in your charter school who have it and put one person in charge of both collecting that information and also compiling the reports. The fewer times the numbers change hands, the better.

To further limit the chances of an error occurring, submit your reports directly to the government electronically. That way, you can just organize the raw data and send, which further helps to eliminate errors that occur while transcribing the data.

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Business Regulations

To ensure charter-school compliance with regard to business regulations, it helps to focus on two issues: security and tracking.

Why security and tracking? It’s perhaps even more important for a charter school to maintain a detailed transaction record than it would be for a K-12 school to do so because charter schools are viewed by regulators as businesses (which is why charter schools are subject to business regulations) and any good business will be able to look back through an organized and complete record. That will help greatly if ever you’re asked to explain a business transaction in the future.

Now that you know the “why,” here’s the how: make it a point to silo/segment user access so that only those who need to be able to view and edit certain information have access to that information. This way, you not only can keep your data secure (and therefore accurate), you also will be able to track who is responsible for which transaction. That’s how you ensure a full, detailed record for future use in the event that you need it.

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Public Body

Not only are charter schools technically “businesses,” they’re also public bodies. Add a classification, add more regulations.

To help your charter school navigate public body regulations, you want to keep all of your certification information organized and easily accessible. That goes for teaching credentials, CPR certificates, and anything else you can think of.

When deciding how best to store all of this information, keep in mind the top section of this article — at the end of the day, these credentials and certificates will end up getting reviewed by a government agency. So, be sure to keep the information organized in a compliant manner. The state of California, for example, requires its schools to report in a Standardized Account Code Structure (SACS). So, for the best California charter school compliance process, you would want to make sure that however you maintain your certificate and credential information, you do so in a way that is SACS compliant. This again will save you time and reduce the chances of a data error when you report.

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Independent Financial Audit

Charter schools are required to undergo regular audits. As with any sort of audit, transparency will serve you well in the long run.

Be sure to provide auditors with the full picture of information so that they don’t miss anything. If one piece of data gets overlooked for any reason, it could come back to haunt you down the road.

To be sure that nothing goes overlooked and that your charter school is entirely transparent during audits, allow the auditors full access to your “books.” Volunteer everything you have rather than making the auditor ask for select pieces of information. It may be more of a pain in the short term, but in the long term it could save you time, energy, and money.

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Authorizers

The best thing you can do for your charter school with regard to its authorizer — another area of regulation unique to charter schools — is to work closely with that organization and make sure that you are giving them what they need, how they need it.

For example, when submitting your State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) reports or your Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) reports, first make sure everything is organized the way it’s supposed to be so that your authorizer will have an easier time with the information.

Granted, this is much easier said than done. But going the extra mile for your authorizer is critical in order to maintain a positive working relationship. The easier you make it for your authorizer to sort through your data, the happier they’ll be, which can only work to your benefit. That’s not to say that they’ll “let you slide” in any way, but a happy authorizer will be more receptive to work with you as a team and cooperate to help you meet your obligations and requirements when they’re able to.

So, even though it may cause more work now, going above and beyond to help your authorizer will help to ensure that you have another entire organization rooting for you to succeed.

Click below to contact us and discuss how our software can ease your charter school’s compliance burdens.

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