2017 Charter School Grants Implement ESSA Flexibility—Finally!

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Almost two years after the reauthorization of ESEA, improvements made to the Charter Schools Program (CSP) in response to our advocacy are finally going into effect. On September 28, the U.S. Department of Education awarded the first round of CSP Grants to State Entities, as well as Replication and Expansion Grants (CMO), and Credit Enhancement facilities funding.

With the new grant awarded, one of the key changes that we asked for is having an impact. In the reauthorization of ESEA, the State Entities (SE) program replaced the Grant to State Educational Agencies (SEA) program. This change means that entities such as governors, state charter school boards, and charter support organizations can now apply to distribute the funds. Previously only SEAs could apply for these grants. The SE program changes open the competition to the state faction most capable – and willing – to build a strong statewide charter sector. As a result, for the first time we have two CSP grantees that are not SEAs—The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board and the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center.

Another change in the law permits states to award replication and expansion grants: Texas received a three-year grant for nearly $60 million just for this purpose, on top of their grant for new charter school start-ups that they received in 2016.

In addition to the change in eligible applicants, the grantees will benefit for the first time from the following new provisions

  • The SE and CMO programs provides schools with additional spending flexibility for startup funds. For example, schools are allowed to use CSP funds to purchase a school bus and make minor facility improvements.
  • The SE program includes new protections to ensure funds go to charter schools with autonomy and flexibility consistent with the definition of a charter school – not to schools that intend to revert to district control when their grant runs out.
  • SE and CMO grantees have more flexibility to use a weighted lottery to increase access to charter schools for educationally disadvantaged students.
  • SE and CMO grantees are also permitted to prioritize students that attended earlier grades in the same network of charter schools.
  • State entities can retain 7% to provide technical assistance to charter operators and authorizers to open high-quality schools, strengthen authorizer quality, and improve fiscal oversight.

Check out the Department’s Charter Schools Program website for more details about yesterday’s awards.

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