Charter Schools

Federal Funding Available but Barriers Exist Gao ID: HEHS-98-84 April 30, 1998

The number of charter schools is growing rapidly, offering a new model for public schools. Although charter schools are generally designed to operate with more autonomy than traditional public schools, they are held accountable for meeting the terms of their charters, and risk revocation of their charters if they fail. This report looks at the question of whether charter schools receive their share of federal funds targeted to public schools. Specifically, GAO provides information on how selected states allocate funds from title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); factors that help and hinder charter schools access title I and IDEA funds; and whether factors that help or hinder charter schools to access federal funds vary by the funding path used in selected states.

GAO noted that: (1) in general, states either allocate funds to charter schools directly, considering them to be independent school districts or local educational agencies (LEA), or indirectly through a parent school district, considering a charter school to be a member of an existing school district; (2) overall, about two-fifths of the charter schools GAO surveyed received Title I funds, and slightly more than half of them received IDEA funds or IDEA-funded special education services; (3) most charter schools that did not receive funds did not apply for them; (4) two-thirds of charter school operators whom GAO surveyed and who expressed an opinion believed that they received a fair share of Title I or IDEA funds or IDEA-funded special education services; (5) a variety of barriers, according to GAO's review, have made it difficult for charter schools to access Title I and IDEA funds; (6) these barriers include a lack of enrollment and student eligibility data to submit to states before funding allocation decisions are made and the time required and costs involved in applying for such funds; (7) charter school operators most often cited training and technical assistance and notification of their eligibility for federal funds as factors that helped them access Title I and IDEA funds; (8) many factors that helped or hindered charter schools access federal funds had no relation to the schools' receiving their funds directly from the state or indirectly through a parent school district, but some factors did relate to the funding path; (9) for example, the working relationship between a charter school and its sponsoring district could either help or hinder the school's access to federal funds; (10) in contrast, charter schools treated as LEAs and receiving federal funds directly from the state were largely unaffected by their relationships with local school districts; (11) several states and the Department of Education have begun initiatives to help charter schools access federal funds; (12) some states are revising or developing alternative allocation policies and procedures to improve charter schools' access to federal funds and providing training and technical assistance to charter school operators; and (13) the Department recently issued guidance to states and LEAs on allocating federal Title I funds to charter schools and has funded the development of an Internet web site with information on federal programs, charter school operational issues, a charter school resource directory as well as profiles of charter school states and charter schools.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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