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What Is a School Corporation?

In the United States, education is organized at the state—not federal—level.
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  • Written By: S.R. Morris-Gray
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2014
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A school corporation is a legal term used by public and private schools to conduct the business of educating students. Generally, a corporation is a separate legal entity with specific codes of operation and separate laws of conduct and responsibilities. The administrators and educators at schools work for the corporation and generally are viewed as separate and distinct from it. Exact rules of incorporation vary by state but schools can incorporate under the organization of a town, county, city, or township and also as consolidated, metropolitan, united, unified, or community school corporations.

In the United States (US), education is organized at the local level. While the national government presents laws and regulations tied to national funding, the final institution and implementation of the national laws rely on the local school boards. All public schools generally accept national categorical funds related to instruction and the purchase of textbooks and specialized equipment. The acceptance of national funds for building and hiring of education specialists, including teachers and teaching aides, is determined by local approval. Local school boards accepting national funds, however, are regulated by state educational agencies.

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As part of the general state education agency, public schools incorporate under the laws of the state where the school operates. Charter school companies operating in numerous states typically must select a single state for a corporate office and meet incorporation standards for filing in that state. The curriculum and educational standards, however, must meet the standards of the individual state where each school is located. For example, a California charter school typically must meet California state curriculum standards. A charter school corporation located in California operating a separate charter school in Indiana is regulated by the Indiana State Department of Education and not the state of California.

The general types of American school corporations include the smallest school organizations of a town or village. Larger population centers include additional schools organized around a township, city, or county school corporation. Cities with multiple school districts typically include school corporations operating as metropolitan, united, or community, and this title indicates cooperation between a large group of schools. Consolidated and united operation involves the legal cooperation among a once separate group of schools that now work as a unit. Unified is used for a corporation representing all schools in the community including elementary, middle, and high schools.

Corporations typically are required by states to have a written set of articles of incorporation that detail the creation of the corporation and list the management policies. The corporation must also adopt bylaws that list specific duties and rights of the corporation officers and define the role of the groups and people within the corporation. Corporations registered in other states usually need to request permission from that state to conduct business there. A separate corporation filing usually is not required, but registration must be done before the corporation begins operation. Charter school corporations doing business in more than one state usually need to request permission to do business outside the state of the original incorporation.

The size of a school corporation varies widely. Hawaii is represented by one large school corporation, while Los Angeles County has dozens of corporations. A large school corporation has the advantage of economies of scale. Purchasing equipment, supplies, and books at a discount is facilitated by a large number of schools required to use the same curriculum materials and operate in the same manner. When a school corporation is too large, operation may become decentralized and quality control could suffer as a result.

Defining a school as a legal corporation requires the public disclosure of funding and spending. While a school district is viewed as a person in the eyes of the court and as a person may be sued and sue others, employees of the school corporation may not be sued as a part of the corporation. A separate lawsuit must be filed against the person employed by the school if damages are sought. The employee and school district are viewed as separate entities under corporate law.

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