July 5, 2022 11:16 am

U.S. Ed Department Finalizes Tough New Charter Regulations

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Since 2019, the Network for Public Education has worked to stop the waste, profiteering, and fraud in the federal Charter Schools Program.  Our two reports, Asleep at the Wheel I and II, caught the attention of the press and members of Congress. We secured allies in our fight as we fought the funding of segregation academies in North Carolina. We met with Congressional staff members and the Department itself. And when the draft regulations came out, we worked nonstop for weeks to write our comments, explain the proposed regulations to others, provide tailored model comments, and work with our allies to push the regulations over the finish line.

On July 1, those efforts paid off.

The Department received 26,580 comments on the proposed regulations, most of which were generated from “letter-writing campaigns.” Of all of the comments, 5,770 were unique. According to the Department, “the majority [of comments] expressed general support for the regulations and the priorities.” We and our allies did our job.

 Here are the significant gains.

The Department will make it difficult or impossible for charters run by for-profits to get grants. 

If an applicant has or will have a contract with a for-profit management company (or a “nonprofit management organization operated by or on behalf of a for-profit entity” like Academica), they must provide extensive information, including a copy or description of the contract, personnel reporting, possible related party transactions and real estate contracts. The State Entity that awards the grant must publish the for-profit management contract between the awardee and the school.

Most importantly, the applicant must assure that “the [for-profit] management company does not exercise full or substantial control over the charter school,” thereby barring any charter school operated by a for-profit with a “sweeps contract” from obtaining CSP funds.

There will be greater transparency and accountability for charter schools, state entities, and CMOs that apply for grants.

 Transparency gains include public hearings, comparative demographic information, the name of all awardee schools, and their peer-reviewed applications. Schools must publish information on their websites that includes fees, uniforms, transportation plans, and if they provide free lunch.

Accountability gains include better supervision by State Entities of the schools awarded grants, including in-depth descriptions of how they will review applications, the peer review process they will use, and how they will select grantees for in-depth monitoring. There are new restrictions on how unauthorized schools can receive funds.

 Regulations to stop white-flight charters from receiving CSP funding and ensure the charter is needed in the community. 

 The final regulations are good, but not as strong as initially proposed. The community impact analysis is now called a needs analysis. That analysis must include: evidence of community desire for the school; the school’s enrollment projection; a comparison of the demographics of the school with the area where the students are likely to be drawn; the projected impact of the school on racial and socio-economic district diversity and an assurance that the school will not undermine local desegregation efforts. There are exceptions for theme schools and schools in racially isolated neighborhoods.

Making progress on holding charters accountable and reducing waste, fraud, and profiteering is an extraordinarily difficult task. The goal of the charter lobby is to create as many charters as possible, make schools a marketplace, and eventually overtake our democratically governed schools. We have a long way to go in stopping that. But these regulations are an important first step.

For an in-depth analysis, read my piece in The Washington Post Answer Sheet here.

Now help us get the word out with these “click to tweets” here.

And remember, none of this is possible without your support. Please give to the Network for Public Education today.