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Starting a School - Government Regulations


By Dr. Matthew Colpitts, Head of School & President, Ventures Academy


There is a myth that independent/private schools do not have oversight from public agencies. While there is less regulation about the scope and nature of the education for private schools, there are regulations that school founders must be aware of navigating. These are different from the requirements for public schools, but need to be given attention. For example, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) in Washington State has several requirements in order for private schools to operate. In Washington State, a private school must do the following:

  • Complete the application and get approval from OSPI;

  • One licensed teacher to supervise the teaching of faculty is needed in the school;

  • Inspections from Fire and Health Departments must be submitted to the OSPI.

You may not think much about your county government or the fact that they may have regulations that affect you and the services that could support the school. Regardless, you should check and find out what they may require depending on where you live in the country.

There are additional requirements based on whether the institution is a non-profit or a for-profit organization. There are also federal and state business registrations, tax issues, unemployment insurance, and other business operations-related requirements. If you are working as a nonprofit, you must apply for that status as soon as possible.

Don’t forget the building code and zoning rules for the municipality where you are located. They will have requirements for educational occupancies and what is needed will vary by how a specific geographical area is listed on the city zoning maps.

Even though they will likely not have authority over a private school, check with the local school district where you are located. They may have resources that you and your students can use and a relationship with the district is necessary for your school to have over the coming years.

As you work through these regulations and relationships, check from multiple angles; do not trust any single source by itself. Consider getting additional help in the form of specialized staff or consultants to aid in navigating these regulations and applications. When verifying what you still need to do in terms of regulation and compliance with government rules, ask yourself (and others!) what regulations are in play for a school or our type, organization, and location?

Reach out and make connections to others doing similar work or who have started schools in the past. Of course, this includes other founders and heads of school, but make sure to include facilities, operations, and real estate people. Education leaders may not know the operational and compliance requirements that will be essential. I have had some learning moments on this point, such as the need for local authorizations, zoning rules, and traffic studies.

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