By: Anna Hinton, PhD, Director, Charter Schools Program, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
The U.S. Department of Education is committed to ensuring that all its programs are implemented in ways that increase educational opportunity for students and address inequities in our education system. In keeping with this commitment, today, the Department issued notices inviting applications for two programs authorized under the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter School Programs (CSP) – the Grants to State Entities and the Grants to Charter School Developers for the Opening of New Charter Schools and for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools programs. Together, these programs will provide an estimated $77 million in new funds to support high-quality charter schools. Every student should have access to a high-quality public education, and we believe high-quality public charter schools play an important role in that access.
In addition to releasing the notices inviting applications for these programs, the Department released final rules for these programs and the CSP Grants to Charter Management Organizations for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools program. Each of these notices reflect our values and commitment to:
- Ensuring that all students – with a focus on underserved students – have access to a high-quality public education, whether in a charter school, a magnet school, a community school, or other type of public school.
- Supporting high-quality charter schools and fulfilling our responsibility to be good stewards of federal funds. This means ensuring that recipients of taxpayer dollars across all Department discretionary and formula grant programs – including these programs – are subject to strong fiscal transparency, oversight, and accountability.
- Recognizing the important role the federal government can play in supporting state and local efforts to increase student diversity across and within our nation’s public school system. We are at our strongest as a nation when we embrace the rich diversity across our country. Federal resources should not be used to increase racial or socioeconomic segregation and isolation.
The final rules for the CSP reflect each of these values and are aimed at ensuring that all students in public charter schools receive a high-quality education. Through the final notice, we are:
- Ensuring meaningful, ongoing opportunities for community, family, and educator input into school decision-making.
- Increasing transparency by requiring applicants to state whether they have entered or plan to enter into a contract with a for-profit management organization and, if so, to provide detailed information regarding the terms of such contract;
- Improving fiscal oversight by requiring applicants to report on individuals who have a financial interest in a for-profit management organization that enters into a contract with a charter school, and other conflicts of interest and how these conflicts will be resolved; and
- Providing additional guardrails to prevent federal funds from being used to further racial and socio-economic segregation and isolation, while supporting increased access for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, English learners, and other traditionally underserved students to attend high-quality public schools in their local communities.
The rulemaking process included a dedicated opportunity for written public comment. Public comment is an important opportunity for the Department to hear from individuals and entities most connected to the work and who represent the students and families most impacted by a particular program. The resulting public comments—which involved more than 25,000 submissions that were read and given careful consideration—revealed ways to further strengthen our proposal for this grant program. We appreciate the robust stakeholder feedback. The final rules reflect the following changes in response to stakeholder comments to clarify intent, and to maintain our commitment to providing all students with a high-quality education, in particular to our most underserved students:
- Encouraging – but not requiring – collaboration between charter schools and traditional school systems. Some commenters expressed concern that regulating collaborations with traditional school systems might create a barrier for charter applicants in certain authorizing contexts. Research has shown that collaborations between charter schools and traditional public schools and school districts can be mutually beneficial. For example, these collaborations can bring more resources to charter schools and the students they serve, better meet the needs of English learners and students with disabilities, and create professional learning communities for educators. However, we acknowledge that these types of collaborations may not be available in every district. Therefore, in the final rule, the Department revised our proposed priority related to these collaborations to ensure that it is not implemented in a manner that would make it more difficult for eligible applicants to obtain charter approval or to qualify for CSP funding. Moreover, in this year’s Charter School Developer competition we are including this as an invitational priority, which will not give preference to applicants that propose or continue collaborations over other applicants. We are also providing more flexibility regarding the types of collaborations that can meet the priority, including being clear that existing collaborations may qualify for the priority, as well as allowing more flexibility for how a charter might demonstrate evidence of the collaboration. Additionally, we noted that in future competitions we would not require such collaborations by using the priority as an absolute priority.
- Clarifying that applicants can use a range of possible evidence for the needs analysis. Other commenters expressed concern that the final rules might require over-enrollment in traditional public schools in order for a CSP applicant to demonstrate a local need and receive funds. Since 2001, almost 15% of the charter schools and proposed charter schools that received federal funding either never opened or closed prior to the end of the grant period – these schools received more than $174 million in taxpayer dollars. It is critical that in planning for a new charter school, as with the establishment of any new school, there be reasonable evidence demonstrating the need in the community for that school. However, we recognize there are multiple ways applicants can go about doing that. To address commenters’ concerns and maintain the Department’s commitment to responsible spending of taxpayer dollars, the final rule provides applicants with a number of examples of evidence they may provide to indicate the need for the proposed charter school, such as current waitlists for existing charter schools, or interest in a specialized instructional approach. This approach is aligned with other Department grant programs, such as the Magnet Schools Assistance Program and the Full-Service Community Schools program, which also require applicants to demonstrate a need in the community for the establishment of new schools. Additionally, to address concerns by commenters about the burden this requirement may place on applicants with less capacity during the current application window, the Department is not applying the needs analysis requirement to the Developer competition this year, recognizing the capacity constraints for independent charter school operators during a short application window.
- Encouraging diverse student enrollment. Other commenters expressed concern that charter schools in communities that are neither racially nor socio-economically diverse, or that focus on underserved populations, would be ineligible for funding. The Department recognizes that there are many districts that serve almost entirely students of color or students from low-income backgrounds, including Tribal communities, which in some instances may be due, in part, to redlining. High-quality charter schools that increase educational opportunities in these already homogeneous and isolated communities, or for underserved students, were always intended to be – and are – eligible for funding under the final priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria, and will not be at a competitive disadvantage for funding. The Department has clarified this intent in the final requirements, in part, by asking why a charter school may be unlikely to have a diverse student body, and how its student body promotes the purposes of the CSP, including to provide high-quality educational opportunities to underserved students.
- Streamlining application requirements. Finally, some commenters expressed concern that the number of requirements and the related burden may disadvantage applicants. To ensure that new applicants, including those that may have less capacity than other applicants, have a fair opportunity to receive funds, the Department has found ways to streamline the application requirements under the CSP to support these applicants. The final rules reflect efforts to streamline requirements and reduce burden, for example by allowing applicants to submit information that they have already submitted to their authorizer to meet the needs analysis requirement. The Department is also fully committed to providing the technical assistance and support needed to support high-quality applications and a diversity of applicants.
The Department is grateful for the thoughtful input and comments received as the Department worked to finalize rules under the Charter School Program. We are all working toward the same goal of ensuring students from all ages, backgrounds, and communities have access to high-quality education, including through high-quality public schools. These final rules will support high-quality charter schools and the students and families they serve. The Department stands ready to support program applicants with technical assistance and other supports to ensure a high number of quality applicants and successful implementation of this program.
To learn more about these grant programs, please read our Fact Sheet.