The National Alliance has released its priorities for the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): Free to Succeed: Public Charter Schools & the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The last time Congress reauthorized the law, public charter schools were an educational experiment, and the purpose of the Charter Schools Program (CSP) was to increase the “national understanding” of the charter school model. Today public charter schools are no longer a fragile educational experiment, but rather a robust sector that is driving educational innovation throughout the country. Moreover, there is significant demand for seats in high quality charter schools—demand that exceeds capacity by nearly 600,000 seats.
There are many programs in ESEA that impact public charter schools, not just the Charter Schools Program for start-ups. That is why Congress needs to renew ESEA in order to preserve charter school autonomy and foster expansion of the number of high quality public charter schools throughout the nation.
Our proposal includes four key principles (detailed in the paper):
1. Expand and reform the Charter Schools Program
- CSP grants should be awarded to the statewide entity that is best able to administer the grant. Therefore, the list of eligible applicants should be expanded to include other statewide entities, such as statewide charter boards and Charter Support Organizations.
- CSP should encourage the creation of quality schools by prioritizing funds for states with laws that, for example, do not arbitrarily restrict charter school growth and that provide for equitable funds, promote facilities access and work to ensure charter autonomy over personnel and operations.
- Recipients of state grants should have the flexibility to award state CSP funds for replication and expansion, not just start-ups.
- The law should include the current national grant competition for the replication and expansion of high quality schools.
2. Recognize success and implement consequences for failing charter schools
States should hold all schools accountable for improving the student achievement of all students and groups of students. Clear parameters should be set by states for the non-renewal, nonrenewal and revocation of charters. Failing charter schools should be closed and not required to implement federal turnaround requirements.
3. Encourage innovation and eliminate unnecessary regulations
The definition of a “highly qualified teacher” has created a web of burdensome requirements that have little to show in terms of results. Instead of focusing on credentials, federal law should encourage teacher effectiveness in the classroom. Charter schools should also have freedom to design and implement their own teacher evaluation systems. Congress should also authorize the Investing in Innovation program (i3).
4. Ensuring equitable treatment and funding of public charter schools in federal programs
Changes should be made to federal formula grant programs to ensure equitable funding for public charter schools, including new and expanding charter schools. States and districts should be clearly required to consult with charter schools leaders when working to develop their Title I plans for services for educationally disadvantaged students. States or districts that use weighted-student funding formulas should be permitted to allow federal dollars to follow a student to their school of choice.
The National Alliance will be working with Congress to ensure that our principles are reflected in a new ESEA. We look forward to working with the charter school community to support their inclusion into the new law.