ESSA and Charter Schools
This is Part Seven in a nine part series of a conversation between NPE Action President Diane Ravitch and Senator Lamar Alexander’s Chief of Staff, David P. Cleary. You can access the entire series here.
Does the law impose any requirements on charter schools regarding funding, selection of students, financial transparency, or accountability?
Sen. Alexander has been a long-time advocate of charter schools. In his last act as Secretary of Education in 1993, he wrote a letter to all of the nation’s superintendents encouraging them to look at the idea of creating charter schools like those started in Minnesota.
The Every Student Succeeds Act makes several updates to the federal public charter school program to modernize the program and ensure public charter schools are held to the same standards as other public schools. The charter school program provides federal grants to support the creation of new charter schools, and the new law is updated to also allow such grants to support the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools. The bill also includes important changes to eliminate barriers to enrollment for some students, increase charter school financial transparency, and include charter schools in the state accountability system in the same way that traditional schools are included.
The law continues support for the competitive grant program for grants to states and other state entities for the purposes of opening new, or replicating or expanding high-quality charter schools, and to provide technical assistance to improve the quality of authorized public chartering agencies (including developing capacity for and conducting fiscal oversight and auditing of charter schools). The new law also continues support for the facilities grants programs to enhance the availability of loans or bond financing for charter schools since so many charter schools are denied access to the capital budget of state or local school construction and financing. We also focus efforts at the federal level to make competitive grants to replicate and expand high-quality charter schools to try to build on their success.
Funding in the latest appropriations bill for all of these activities was $333 million.
Selection of students
The new law requires grantees to “work with charter schools on recruitment and enrollment practices to promote inclusion of all students, including by eliminating any barriers to enrollment for educationally disadvantaged students.” This language is found in section 4303(f)(1)(A)(viii)(I) of the new education law. Section 4303(f)(2)(C) requires the state’s public chartering agencies to adequately monitor charter schools in recruiting, enrolling, retaining, and meeting the needs of all students.
The law made several changes to improve financial transparency of charter schools, both to ensure that public funds are being spent well, and to learn more about the disparities in funding for public charter schools compared to other public schools.
State grantees are encouraged to adopt strong authorizer practices, including increased financial transparency for charter schools. The law includes changes to increase financial transparency, oversight, and monitoring, including through financial audits. State grantees also need to focus on promoting quality charter authorizing, including through more efforts to audit charter finances and hold charter schools accountable for academic, financial, and operational efforts.
In the new law, charter schools are treated the same as traditional public schools in the state’s accountability system. All public schools in the state are included in the accountability system that the state develops. The law explicitly requires that the law’s accountability provisions are overseen for charter schools in accordance with state charter school law.