Keeping Up with the Department of Education: Regulations on the Chopping Block, ESSA State Plans, and Impacts for Authorizers

This summer, in addition to reviewing state ESSA plans, the US Department of Education has been busy reviewing existing regulations, guidance, and department programs as the new administration identifies areas to focus on in future years.

To ensure the interests of authorizers, our partners, and charter schools were represented in this process, we took a close look at federal activities to identify those that have the biggest impact on charter school autonomy and accountability. Specifically, we looked to identify which regulations were either protecting or disrupting the important balance between these two principles.

We highlighted four areas in the Charter School Program, Title I, and federal education policy that we believe the Department should preserve, change, or expand to advance the goal of high-quality charter schools:

Protect authorizers and charter schools from overreach by guarding state charter school law.

Unfortunately, regulations making it clear that state accountability systems cannot interfere with an authorizer’s ability to enforce charter accountability were part of a large group of regulations that Congress repealed in March 2017.

We encouraged the Department to issue guidance on this issue so that authorizers can continue to give schools the flexibility they need to thrive and hold them to contractual standards.

Authorizers: Use the ESSA transition guide to examine your state charter law and encourage your State to issue guidance!

Help authorizers protect the rights of students with disabilities.

Authorizers play an important role in ensuring charter schools fulfill their special education responsibilities to all students. However, in many states, charter school laws are vague on an authorizer’s legal role in investigating or remedying special education complaints. Because of this, the Department issued guidance last year to help charter schools and authorizers understand and fulfill their special education responsibilities.

We encouraged the Department to retain the existing FAQ and guidance documents on this issue and continue its role in civil rights investigation and enforcement.

Work with authorizers and other industry stakeholders to collect meaningful data, address issues, and promote what works.

Through a combination of research and outreach, together authorizers and the Department have fostered innovation and spread best practices for the charter sector across the country. This extends to several initiatives, including expanding the National Charter School Resource Center and convening working groups to address emerging issues.

We encouraged the Department to continue working with industry stakeholders and nonprofits to keep a pulse on important issues in the sector and learn what is working and what needs improvement.

Allow legacy state Charter School Program grantees the same flexibilities allowed in the program under ESSA.

When Congress created the State Entity Grant of the Charter School Program, it significantly improved many laws governing the state grant program by increasing autonomy and flexibility. However, the 12 states previously awarded CSP grants remain constrained by the old rules in No Child Left Behind.

We recommended the Department address this problem by either granting existing grantees general waivers to pursue activities allowed under the new CSP State Entity program or by creating an expedited process to review and approve specific waiver requests.

SEAs with CSP grants from FY16 and earlier, have you asked the department for a waiver?