Dept. of Education's Final CSP Rules: Less Harmful But Not Without Impact

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Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, released the following statement on the U.S. Department of Education’s finalized Notice of Proposed Priorities, Requirements, Definitions, and Selection Criteria (NPP) for three components of the Charter Schools Program:

“After sparking major bipartisan backlash and outrage from parents and grassroots advocates, the U.S. Department of Education softened its proposed new CSP rules. Though the impact will be less harmful than what was originally proposed, it is not without impact. Among our greatest concerns is the shortened window for submitting grant applications this year. With just 30 days, it will be difficult to complete the application on time, and many applicants may find the added complexity and compressed timeline an insurmountable hurdle.

“One of the most troubling aspects of the proposed rules would have created a federal definition of ‘community impact’ to protect the financial interests of school districts, at the expense of students and families. Fortunately, this language is now changed. Applicants will be able to make a case for ‘community need’ rather than ‘community impact,’ based on factors such as charter school waitlists and parent demand. Further, the final rules will take steps to align the requirements for the ’community need’ analysis with authorizer requirements.

“The initial proposed regulations also sought to require states to prioritize grants to CSP applicants who are able to ’partner’ with a school district. This is curious given the historical reluctance of school districts to partner with charter schools. The final rule de-emphasized this priority, providing clarification to the Local Educational Agency ’partnership’ priority and making it an invitational priority only. Otherwise, district officials would have had veto power over whether the charter school applicant could satisfy this CSP priority.

“In addition, the charter school community was quite concerned about proposed language that would have set up roadblocks for culturally affirming schools, including schools that serve indigenous populations. Although the language has been revised to clarify that charter schools that serve non-white or low-income communities will not be penalized in the competition, it still creates burdensome requirements for such applicants in their application narrative requirements.

“The National Alliance agrees with the Department’s position that greater transparency is needed regarding contracts between charter schools and outside entities.  We appreciate the streamlining of the final priority to the current guidance around governing boards. However, we remain concerned about the vagueness of the language, which could open the door unintended consequences.

“In all, the final rules will be workable in most cases. However, it seems rather an elaborate exercise that still fails to address the issues identified by the Department as the impetus for changes. There is little to no emphasis on academic achievement for the communities that need it most.

“We look forward to a more collaborative rulemaking process with the Department in the future. I remain hopeful that together we can reach our shared goal of ensuring every child in America has access to a great public school. For more than 25 years, the CSP has provided states with resources to help ensure every child can access a high-quality public education. The CSP is the backbone of both the public education system and the charter school movement, strengthening efforts to provide more equitable opportunities for all students.”

For more information, please read the 2021 CSP Annual Report.

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