Fordham Foundation Will Authorize Charter Schools

Published November 1, 2004

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, well-known for its respected policy studies and analyses of a wide range of education issues, is putting its money where its mouth is and getting into the business of authorizing, or sponsoring, charter schools in Dayton, Ohio, where the late Thomas B. Fordham lived. It is the first private foundation in the country empowered to sponsor charter schools.

Fordham’s new role begins next summer, when the Ohio Department of Education will cease to sponsor 19 Dayton charter schools, called “community schools” in Ohio. The foundation, not wanting the schools to become “orphans,” will seek to assume sponsorship of some of them. Then, on an ongoing basis, Fordham will have to ensure the schools comply with state and federal regulations, operate in a fiscally responsible manner, and achieve their academic objectives–including the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

“It’s a challenge to do it well–striking the balance between freeing schools and holding them accountable–but we believe good sponsorship is a key, oft-missing link in the evolution of chartering,” said Fordham President Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Last year, the foundation issued an analysis of how different states handled the charter school authorization process, titled “Charter School Authorizing: Are States Making the Grade?” The study’s authors, Louann Bierlein Palmer and Rebecca Gau, concluded, “authorizing charter schools is a complicated business.” They found having local school boards as authorizers did not work as well as other options.

“[I]t is clear that one or more non-local board authorizers must be directly available to potential applicants, not just via an appeal process,” Palmer and Gau concluded. However, they noted it was probably not a good idea to have “dozens” of authorizers, either, because of the difficulty and cost of establishing “the minimal necessary infrastructure needed for quality authorizing.”

Serving as Fordham’s director of community school sponsorship will be former investment banker Quentin L. Messer, Jr., who will ensure all sponsorship obligations are met and act as liaison between Fordham, the sponsored charter schools, and the Ohio Department of Education.

“We are pleased by the Foundation’s willingness to take a leadership position in this important endeavor and especially encouraged by its focus on educational quality and accountability,” said Ohio Department of Education CEO Steve Burigana. “We believe that the Foundation will offer a strong model that we hope other nonprofit organizations will seek to emulate as they pursue the opportunities and responsibilities of sponsorship.”


For more information …

The June 2003 publication of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, “Charter School Authorizing: Are States Making the Grade?” by Louann Bierlein Palmer and Rebecca Gau, is available online at

More information on charter schools and the role of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation as a charter sponsor is available online at