Charter leaders mixed over revised federal proposal

State and national charter school leaders are mixed over final revisions to federally proposed rules overseeing charter startup grants.

“The changes are manageable, but still frustratingly bureaucratic,” said Terry Ryan, CEO of Idaho charter support group Bluum.

Ryan echoed opinions from president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Nina Rees, who on Thursday called the final changes “less harmful,” but still “not without impact.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education floated an array of changes to the way charter startups apply for federal Charter School Program grants aimed at helping schools launch and boost their enrollments. Critics like Ryan and Rees said those changes would be cumbersome for charters hoping to tap into the federal funds, which have bolstered expansion efforts in Idaho for years.

Charter advocates across Idaho last month joined a national call to scrap the proposed changes, which ranged from creating a federal definition of “community impact” aimed at protecting financial interest of school districts to requiring states to prioritize grants for applicants who partner with districts.

Charters’ impacts on school districts have been a long-running concern in Idaho, where state funding has for years been tied to the average daily attendance of students. As charter enrollment grows in the Gem State, so does their share of state funding.

The feds’ final rules ease up on the several of originally proposed changes:

  • The definition for “community impact” is now a definition for “community need.”
  • The final rules de-emphisize the prior priority for district-partnered charters.
  • Revised language eases up on possible penalties for charters that serve non-white or low-income communities — a concern charter advocates voiced over initially proposed language that would have set roadblocks for culturally affirming schools.

The final rules will be “workable” for charters in most cases, said Rees, but they still create “burdensome requirements” for applicants.

Rees pointed to another initially proposed change that stuck: a shortened window — 30 days — for submitting grant applications this year.

“With just 30 days, it will be difficult to complete the application on time, and many applicants may find the added complexity and compressed timeline an insurmountable hurdle,” Rees said.

Ryan praised Rees’s push for change. “I think the National Alliance got it right and frankly that’s because they worked overtime and mobilized a bipartisan coalition of allies across the country to temper the worse of the rules.”

CSP grants have made a big impact on Idaho’s K-12 landscape over the years. The money — just over $17.5 million dispersed statewide since Bluum started administering the grants in 2019 — has helped launch or expand 22 Idaho charters, by Bluum’s tally. The program has shelled out billions nationally since its inception nearly 30 years ago.
Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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