What’s Wrong with the Proposed Federal Charter School Program Changes – Our Public Comment
The following public comment, filed by Nevada Action for School Options, analyzes a rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Education on March 11, 2022. The proposed rule, which you can read here, sought to make harmful changes to the federal Charter School Program which we believe would compromise one of the federal government’s most effective education programs in inequitable and unfair ways.
April 12, 2022
The Honorable Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education
Re: Proposed Charter Schools Program Rule — Docket ID ED-2022-OESE-0006
Dear Secretary Cardona:
Thank you for your agency’s leadership in support of high-quality public charter school opportunities for learners across the United States. My extensive experience with the federal Charter Schools Program has provided me important opportunities to observe the program’s impressive effectiveness and its tremendous value for expanding equitable access to high-quality educational opportunities.
In my service as a charter school authorizer, as a trustee of high-quality charter schools fortunate to receive grants under this program, and as an official grant reviewer for this program, I feel qualified to assert that as it is presently administered, it is truly one of the most efficient and impactful federal grant programs I have encountered in any agency.
As with any federal program, it is important to continue to revisit its structure, funding priorities, and various other mechanisms to ensure that it is adequately meeting the evolving education needs of the community it serves – families in need of effective schooling options. I applaud you and your colleagues in leading this important process.
I do, however, believe that the regulatory changes proposed in this docket would be problematic and would negatively impact this excellent program for the reasons outlined below.
1. Proposed Priority (1)(e) requires that applicant charter schools provide evidence that “the number of public schools needed to accommodate the demand in the community” not be exceeded. What this proposed requirement fails to address are the common instances where the only available seats for residents in many underserved neighborhoods are seats in ineffective schools rated in the bottom half of the school performance framework of their state.
It is not adequate, and is not morally justifiable, to offer children and families access to only low-quality educational opportunities in schools with poor records of success demonstrating academic outcomes, like the growth of individual students over time. In such communities where I have worked, where the only schools with available seats are ranked in the bottom tiers (for example, one- or two- star rankings in a system where five stars represents the highest ranking), new, high-quality charter schools are badly needed and generally extremely popular with families.
Any proposed rule which does not distinguish openings in high-performing schools from those that perform below average, or worse, would limit access to high-quality educational opportunities to children and families who live in such neighborhoods, an unfortunate and inequitable outcome indeed.
2. Proposed priority (2)(iii)(b) seeks to require applicants to provide a letter from a partnering traditional public school or school district detailing a commitment to participate in collaborative activities. This misguided requirement would effectively give school district managers unilateral power to veto a new charter school from receiving a grant under this program. As a charter school authorizer in a state where school districts are instructed by legislation to provide written feedback about new charter applicant plans, I have seen firsthand how competing priorities within school district leadership can lead to incomplete, inaccurate or inadequate results in such instances. School district funding would not be dependent upon district leadership providing this commitment to charter school applicants, so it is incomprehensible to me why prospective charter school students be penalized by such inaction by school district leaders if funding for their charter school were threatened instead, as proposed by this rule.
3. Proposed priority (1) (g) would require charter school applicants to propose transportation plans for students who are unable to walk or use public transportation to attend. While I very much agree that government resources should be equitably allocated so that charter school students be provided the same opportunities as their peers in traditional public schools, the fact of the matter remains that charter school students in many jurisdictions are not funded at levels that permit their schools to offer transportation options. If additional federal or state funding were made available to provide these charter school students with ample vouchers to meet their transportation needs, this would serve the cause of equity of educational opportunity well.
Thank you again for your leadership for public school students. I am available at any time to discuss these suggestions and to assist your team in incorporating effective solutions into your Charter School Program plan.
Don Soifer, President, Nevada Action for School Options