On Being a Stakeholder and Informing Federal Policy

The timelines of several different initiatives all converged this summer to create a unique opportunity for meaningful stakeholder engagement at the US Department of Education.

NACSA participated robustly in this opportunity to ensure the interests of students, authorizers, and charter schools continue to be represented across many different areas of federal policy.

Here’s what we did:

  • On 9/20/17, we submitted this letter outlining our recommendations for the implementation of the Expanding Opportunities through High-Quality Public Charter Schools Program (CSP). We made recommendations to shape future federal guidance and grant solicitations in a way that encourages innovation and growth, with a special focus on newly expanded authorizer quality efforts under ESSA. In the formative years of this new program, we think it is important to fully embrace the new ESSA statute and its strong, integrated approach to charter school oversight and accountability. That means rethinking how some areas of guidance and program priorities are structured.
  • On 8/23/17, we submitted this letter requesting more flexibility for current SEA CSP grantees, who are stuck under pre-ESSA grant administration laws. More flexibility, in the form of waivers, would give charter schools more flexibility in how they spend these start-up and replication funds and help these states implement innovative programs to better support quality authorizers.
  • On 8/23/17, we also submitted this letter to the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, which governs the review of consolidated ESSA plans, urging them to issue guidance to ensure state plans do not get in the way of authorizer-driven accountability efforts. As we reported earlier this year, when the package of Title I accountability regulations were repealed we also lost new bipartisan regulations that helped prevent state overreach in charter accountability. Strong guidance from the Department, similar to that issued by the Obama and Bush administrations, can help put this protection back in place.

What do all these different initiatives mean to authorizers, and why did we feel it was so important to participate?

Official comment letters like these reinforce our message of upholding charter access, autonomy, and accountability, and help us demonstrate to federal policymakers that their actions can, and do, have a profound impact on our work on the ground. The technical language, which only a wonk could love, translates our priorities into specific, actionable items that the Department of Education can take to create more quality charter schools.

While the “summer of comment letters” is over, we aren’t slowing down anytime soon. Expect more news from NACSA this fall and winter as we keep looking out for opportunities to give more kids access to a great public education.