In the News
Commissioner Edelblut signs letter voicing opposition to proposed new rules for the Charter Schools Program
April 18, 2022
The Honorable Miguel Cardona
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202
Dear Secretary Cardona,
We write to strongly oppose the Department of Education’s proposed new rules for the Charter Schools Program (CSP). These requirements would stand in the way of our ability to support the creation of new public charter schools in our states.
Educating students over the past two years has been more challenging than at any other time in recent history. At every stage of the pandemic, and facing previously unimaginable and ever-shifting circumstances, we have been focused on ensuring our students can learn. Families consistently voiced their strong desire for flexibility and understanding and have rightly demanded we do whatever possible to meet the needs of their children, as so many of them have fallen further and further behind.
Along the way, the federal government has been a helpful partner by providing new and flexible funding that can be deployed where needed most. Keeping administrative burdens to a minimum has allowed schools to upgrade their ventilation systems, quickly hire additional instructional support, and add extra technology – all to get and keep students safely in the door of their school buildings and better connected with their teachers.
It is therefore confounding and deeply disturbing that the U.S. Department of Education would now make the opening of high-quality charter schools considerably more difficult than ever before. Our students need more public-school options, not fewer, and our state legislatures have spoken strongly about their desire to do that via new and expanding public charter schools. For many years, charter schools have been a lifeline to many of our states’ students and families. Over time, we have learned a great deal about how to authorize and oversee charter schools, including when to close them. Especially now, we do not need to add significant burdens on each applicant to make the case for charter schools when their elected officials have already strongly voiced their favor by enacting laws and providing funding.
The CSP was designed to provide critical resources to expand access to high-quality charter schools, but instead of providing more resources and opportunities to open these unique public schools, the Department of Education’s proposed rule changes would make it harder for the communities most in need to serve their students. These include many communities where the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University found in a 2020 study greater academic gains for students in charter schools, with the difference amounting to almost an additional half year of learning for students in charter schools over the course of the study. Black students and students from low-income backgrounds made the greatest gains. Given that one in three charter school students is Black, this is especially noteworthy. Additionally, children from the bottom 25% of the socioeconomic distribution demonstrated nearly twice as much growth as their peers in district schools. Yet the new CSP regulations would slam the brakes on access to new high-quality charter schools.
Given that these rules would upturn years of established federal charter school policy with little time to consider input before awarding grants, and that there was no stakeholder engagement in developing the regulations–including from governors and state chiefs responsible for administering the program—the proposed regulations should be put on hold and the Department should proceed with the most recent grant guidelines from the last competition for FY22 awards.
Specifically, we would like to highlight the following major issues with the proposed rules:
1. The regulations should not create a new federal standard for measuring whether a charter school has enough community support to open. Using vague standards, the “community impact analysis” in Application Requirement 1 would give anonymous grant reviewers in Washington the power to veto parent, community, and state efforts to open a new school with an approved charter.
Instead of respecting voices and policies at the state and local level, and focusing on whether there are enough seats in high performing public schools to serve all students, these requirements focus on maintaining district enrollment and funding. The community impact analysis should be removed for all the competitions.
2. The community impact rules should also be removed because they would make it difficult for schools that serve a high concentration of students of color to receive support, especially those schools that identify as culturally affirming. Schools that exist to protect indigenous cultures and native languages are also at risk because of the proposed rules’ strident commitment to opening “diverse” schools.
Across each of our states, some of the highest performing public schools are charter schools, and many of them serve a population that reflects the racial make-up of the community where the school is located. With the rules as written, we would be forced to tell many families that the U.S. Department of Education finds their school unworthy of replication due to the racial make-up of the students.
3. The regulations would require states to give priority to applicants that can find a school district to “partner” with them. Therefore, if a large district refuses to partner with charter schools, the district would succeed in placing the proposed charter school at a disadvantage for funding. The focus of this proposal is on bureaucratic inputs, rather than what is best for families. Proposed Priority 2 is unnecessary and should be removed.
4. These regulations would create many new documentation and follow-up monitoring requirements, making it especially burdensome for under-resourced communities and single-site charter school founders to apply for CSP grants. Some of the requirements would be almost punitive, such as the requirement for a school to have a facility before it can receive funds for the planning phase. It is during the planning phase that a school works to secure an adequate facility. Whether the school pursues financing to secure a lease or purchase, or if the school is able to partner with the local district to use an existing facility, it is highly unlikely that a lessor, lender or school district would sign a lease or provide a loan to a school a year in advance of the school opening. In addition, school districts need time to have open dialogue about the use of vacant properties with the community and school founders need time to compare options and make the best possible decision. Requiring CSP applicants to secure a facility before receiving funds would only serve to privilege applicants with the greatest access to outside sources of planning support.
Given that this proposal would create a much more burdensome application process with almost no discussion with the impacted community, the Department should pause or withdraw these proposed rules and instead focus on implementing current program requirements and ensuring that grantees are well-supported in spending grants.
Around the country, charter schools are making a difference in students’ lives: during the 2020-21 school year, nearly 240,000 new students enrolled in public charter schools, representing 7% growth in one school year—the largest increase in half a decade. Even more telling, charter schools were the only sector of public education to grow during the 2020-21 school year. The CSP is the only source of dedicated federal funding to support the growth of charter schools to meet this need. It’s more important than ever to come together to ensure the CSP is able to meet its intended purpose of expanding the number of high-quality charter schools available to students across the nation.
Sherri Ybarra, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Idaho
Carey M. Wright, Ed.D. State Superintendent of Education, Mississippi
Frank Edelblut, Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Education
Andrew Cline, Chairman, New Hampshire State Board of Education
Ryan Walters, State Superintendent of Education, Oklahoma