Georgia Charter Schools Association

Update on Government Shutdown for Charter Schools

As we enter the second week of the federal government shutdown, there does not appear to be a path forward for a quick resolution. Unfortunately, the stakes only get higher over the next 10 days; in addition to resolving FY2014 funding issues, Congress must also act to increase the nation’s debt ceiling by mid-October.

While there should be minimal impact at the school or school district level at this stage, this memo from the Penn Hill Group [ ] provides a comprehensive outline of the impact of the shutdown on U.S. Department of Education programs. Key highlights from the memo include:

*Elementary and Secondary Formula Programs*
Title I, IDEA Part B, and other formula programs are forward-funded (meaning the funding for a fiscal year is provided to states in July). Therefore school districts are not expected to encounter issues drawing down these funds. In addition, the Department of Education’s contingency plan made clear that funding available to states for these programs in October will be allocated as originally planned.

There are several programs that are funded on a “current-year” basis and could be affected if the shutdown becomes prolonged. One such program is Impact Aid, which assists schools whose location on land owned or taxed by the federal government impacts its revenue. Many schools on Indian reservations are aided by this program and could face funding issues if the shutdown last more than a couple of weeks.

*Competitive Grant programs*
Many federal grant program awards are made in the spring, so a government shutdown of a few weeks is unlikely to have significant consequences. However, a lengthier shutdown could cause delays in grant-making, especially for Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation and Promise Neighborhoods.

*Title I Funds for Expanding Charter Schools*
*Some good news for charter schools from the U.S. Department of Education!*
On September 23, 2013, the U.S. Department of Education released new guidance [ School Allocation Hold-Harmless  Requirements.pdf ] that will help to ensure that new or significantly expanding charter schools will receive Title I funding in a timely manner, and at a level that reflects their current student population.

*Brief Background*
“Hold-harmless” provisions in the Title I program are intended to protect the allocations of a local educational agency (LEA) from varying too much from the prior year’s funding. Recent funding reductions to Title I have made it more complicated to meet these hold harmless provisions. This caused concern amongst some in the charter school community that states would run out of Title I funds before they were able to meet their obligations to adjust funding mid-year for new or expanding charter schools.

*What did the U.S. Department of Education decide? *
The Department’s new guidance, in effect, requires state education agencies (SEAs) to ensure that new or significantly expanding charter schools receive the funds for which they are eligible during the first five months of their school year, as required by the federal Charter Schools Program (Section 5206 of ESEA), while at the same time meeting the requirements for allocating Title I funds. Specifically, the guidance details how SEAs should calculate their hold-harmless allocations to LEAs to ensure enough money remains available for new and expanding charters.

*CONNECT Ed: E-Rate Reform & Charter Schools*
In 1996, the E-rate program was established to provide discounted internet connectivity to our nation’s schools and libraries. This summer, the Obama Administration rolled out a new initiative, CONNECTEd [ ], to modernize and reform the E-rate, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiated a formal public comment period.

On September 16, the National Alliance [ CONNECT Ed FINAL 091613.pdf ] and the California Charter Schools Association [ 130913_ERateLtr.pdf ] each submitted comments to educate the FCC about public charter schools and how the program can be improved to ensure equitable access to funding for all public schools. In California, for example, just 3 percent of the state’s E-rate funds were given to public charter schools, even though charters represent 10 percent of public schools and 7 percent of student enrollment in the state.

New public charter schools have an especially hard time in accessing E-rate funds. The E-rate application deadline is typically in late February; but many new or expanding charter schools may not have a charter agreement in place or the approval to expand a school until the spring or summer. So, a public charter school could go an entire academic year without any support for internet connectivity. To improve program access, the National Alliance has requested that the E-rate program provide multiple application dates and that new charter schools be allowed to amend their application after they have their approved charters and identified a facility. We also signed onto a letter [ Joint Press Release – E-Rate Comments.pdf ] along with a broad coalition of education groups to ask the government to streamline and simplify the complicated application process, the administration of the program, and to encourage the FCC to adopt a forward-looking view that accommodates innovative learning models with robust digital content.

Work on this initiative has paused due to the government shutdown.

*English Language Learners, Federal Reporting Requirements & Charter Schools*
The National Alliance submitted comments [ ] in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s Request for Information (RFI) that will guide the use of its technical assistance investments to support federally-funded English language learner (EL) programs. Our comments emphasized that all public schools must receive the appropriate guidance to provide accurate data in the collection of EL data for federal purposes. For public charter schools in particular, we noted that small schools and single charter school LEAs have limited means to track and provide the detailed data that is required of them. Title III technical assistance funds should be used to provide assistance to schools to enable them to respond to data collection requests for federal funding and data collection purposes.

State Education Budgets
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, recently published a report [ ] on post-recession state education funding. It will not come as a surprise that for most states, education funding has not bounced back from pre-recession levels. Key findings include:
  * At least 34 of the 48 states for which it had data are providing less money per-student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit in 2007. Some states have increased spending for the current school year, but per-student spending still lags behind pre-recession levels.
  * For example, New Mexico’s $72 per-student increase this year didn’t offset the state’s $946 per-student cut over the last four years.
  * And while Maine increased per-student funding by $68 in fiscal year 2014, it doesn’t make up for the $465 in cuts the state made between fiscal years 2008 and 2013.

This report is not charter school specific, but it may be helpful in state-level advocacy efforts.

If you have any questions about the items here, or what else we are monitoring and working on, please contact Gina  [ ]or Pam [ ] anytime.
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National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

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