Charter SchoolsRecent Experiences in Accessing Federal Funds Gao ID: T-HEHS-98-129 March 31, 1998
The number of charter schools, which offer a new model for public education, is growing rapidly. Charter schools are intended to address several concerns about public education, including unresponsive school district bureaucracies, restrictive rules, and a lack of accountability for student performance. In exchange for autonomy from state and local rules and regulations, charter schools are held accountable for meeting the terms of their charters, which may stipulate academic outcomes. Slightly more than half of the charter schools GAO surveyed received fiscal year 1996 start-up grants ranging from $7,000 to $84,000; the average amount was $36,000. The schools used this money for various purposes, from curriculum materials and equipment to building renovations and leases. Although most charter school operators who expressed an opinion said that they received a fair share of federal title I and Individuals With Disabilities Education Act funds, charter school operators also cited a number of barriers to obtaining this money, including (1) difficulties in establishing program eligibility, (2) workload demands, and (3) a lack of program and administrative experience. They said that outreach and technical help were critical to helping them access federal funds. Several states and the Department of Education have launched initiatives to help charter schools obtain federal funds.
GAO noted that: (1) slightly more than half of the schools GAO surveyed received fiscal year 1996 start-up grants ranging from $7,000 to $84,000; the average grant amount was $36,000; (2) the schools used the start-up grant funds for a variety of purposes, including curriculum materials and equipment, other technology, and facilities renovation or leasing; (3) about two-fifths of the charter schools GAO surveyed received title I funds, and slightly more than half of the schools received IDEA funds or IDEA-funded special education services; (4) most charter school operators GAO surveyed who expressed an opinion told GAO they believe they received a fair share of federal title I and IDEA funds; (5) nonetheless, charter school operators also cited a variety of barriers to accessing title I and IDEA funds, including: (a) difficulties in establishing program eligibility; (b) workload demands; and (c) a lack of program and administrative experience; (6) they reported that outreach and technical assistance were critical to helping them access federal funds; (7) several states and the Department of Education have begun initiatives to help charter schools access federal funds; (8) some states, for example, are revising or developing alternative allocation policies and procedures to better accommodate charter schools' access to federal funds and providing training and technical assistance to charter school operators; and (9) the Department has recently issued guidance to states and school districts on allocating title I funds to charter schools, and, among other things, has sponsored national meetings for state officials and charter school operators.