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Study Framework and Data Collection
A conceptual framework was developed to guide all aspects of the study. After examining the research on issues related to charter school facilities funding and finance, a study scope was developed and refined with input from the project's expert advisory group. Although the conceptual framework was later collapsed to include only three categories, it initially included four major categories of state-level charter school facilities assistance: direct cash assistance for facilities; ability to borrow money for facilities, including participation in tax-exempt bonds; participation of charter schools in Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs); and mandated district provision of facilities.
The third category, related to QZABs, was later integrated as a subset of the second one, and the fourth category was broadened to include district provision of facilities to charter schools irrespective of whether it is mandated or not. Therefore, the final three categories of focus were
- Direct cash assistance for facilities;
- Ability to borrow money; and
- District provision of school facilities.
Semi-structured interviews, which involve posing a common set of questions with some flexibility for the interviewer to probe based on each interviewee's responses and the context of their particular jurisdiction, were conducted by phone with state policymakers and key staff from statelevel charter school associations and networks in each of the selected case study sites. Across the selected states, 21 interviews were conducted with 27 respondents. A wide range of state representatives was interviewed, including staff of state charter associations and resource centers, staff of public conduits issuing bonds on behalf of charter schools, financial experts within state departments, and staff working in charter offices within state departments of education. Key interviews were digitally recorded to ensure accuracy in capturing quotations.
Once a respondent agreed to an interview time, the research team e-mailed a list of topics to be discussed so that he or she could review the topics prior to the interview. This step provided the respondents the opportunity to gather information for questions for which they might not readily have answers. In addition, the research team e-mailed a fact sheet on the state that included relevant data from the 2007 Charter School Facility Finance Landscape report by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). This report provides a listing of the financing options available for charter facilities nationally, and includes descriptions of many of the statelevel programs featured in this guide. At the beginning of each interview, the research team asked the respondent whether the profile represented on the fact sheet seemed accurate. The team then proceeded with the remainder of the interview questions developed for this study.
These questions were tailored to the particular form of assistance and to the specifics of policies in the state or jurisdiction. In cases where a respondent was unable to respond to a question, the interviewer would clarify the question by posing it in a different way or using additional probes. If the respondent was still uncertain, the interviewer then asked him or her to refer the research team to another contact that would be better able to speak to the issue. As necessary, interviews also were conducted in parts. In some cases, the research team received an initial response, consulted with the internal team or advisors for clarification, and then asked additional questions to obtain further information via e-mail and phone follow-up.
The research team also contacted a small number of charter school operators suggested by state informants due to the operators' savvy in implementing the various forms of facilities assistance policies profiled in this guide. These schools are featured in this guide to give a fuller picture of how the abstract state policies and programs described can function most effectively in practice.