What Do the New Charter School Rules Mean?

Incoming charter schools will have to gather community input and prove they aren’t managed by a for-profit company to receive federal funding under the Biden administration’s finalized Charter School Program rules.

The U.S. Department of Education’s final notice on the new regulations published July 1 is the latest development in the controversy surrounding charter school rules. Since the proposed charter school rules were published for public comment in March, charter school advocates—including a group of 18 congressional Republican lawmakers, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, and more—have spoken out against them, arguing they place unnecessary obstacles in the way of new schools. The final charter school rules ultimately eased some of the charter school advocates’ concerns and continued to draw support from those who’d like to see government regulation in this field.

The proposed rules received over 25,000 comments from the public, Anna Hinton, director of the department’s Charter School Program, said in a blog post. “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,” Hinton said.

The new charter school rules place tighter restrictions on the Charter School Program, a federal grant that funds schools in their first three years of operation. The upcoming grant process will provide $77 million in funds. Charter schools can still open and operate without the funding through the program, and not every charter school relies on it. From 2006 to 2017, the Education Department awarded grants to about 3,100 schools through the program, according to the office of elementary and secondary education. Around 7,700 charter schools were operating in 2021.

The administration’s goal in issuing the new rules is to prevent private companies from using federal dollars to open these schools and to curb premature closures. Fifteen percent of the charter schools that receive funding from the program either never open or close before the three-year grant period is over, department officials said. In an effort to prevent premature closures, the new rules place a heavy emphasis on public engagement. Schools applying for funding would have to complete a “needs analysis” to demonstrate the need for a new school in the area.

The initial proposed rules stated that charter school applicants could point to overenrollment in public schools as an indicator of need in their analysis. That worried charter school advocates who felt that charter schools are still needed in communities where overcrowding isn’t happening.

“The [Charter School Program] has always supported the creation of additional high-quality educational options for children in all communities that need them, not just in districts with overcrowded schools; this must continue,” the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools wrote in an April 18 letter in response to the proposed regulations.

The final rules provide a more flexible set of options for proving that a charter school is needed. Charter school applicants are able to demonstrate need by providing data on access to high-quality schools in the community, submitting information on waiting lists for existing charter schools, proving interest in a specialized instructional approach, or furnishing a copy of the needs analysis conducted as a part of the charter school application submitted to a charter school authorizer.

This article originally appeared on Education Week here.

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