Scott: Education Dept. must revise proposed rule that could stifle access to charter schools

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) recently helped lead a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers in requesting that the U.S. Education Department revise a proposed rule that they think could negatively impact student access to new or expanded charter schools.

Specifically, Sen. Scott and his colleagues expressed concerns about the department’s recent Notice of Proposed Priorities, Requirements, Definitions, and Selection Criteria (NPP) for the Charter Schools Program (CSP), according to a May 5 letter they sent to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

“CSP was designed to provide critical resources to expand access to high-quality charter schools, but these proposed regulations could restrict access to new high-quality public charter schools,” the senators wrote. “As such, we are concerned that the NPP does not prioritize the needs of students and limits high quality choices to certain families.” 

Among the six other lawmakers who joined Sen. Scott in signing the letter were U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

The senators pointed out that during the 2020-2021 academic year, nearly 240,000 new students enrolled in charter schools, representing 7 percent growth as compared to the previous academic year and demonstrating “how critical the CSP is,” they wrote.

However, the lawmakers are concerned that the new Education Department requirements associated with the proposed NPP go beyond the scope of the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

For example, the proposed NPP would require grantees to demonstrate “community impact” to show that there is “sufficient demand,” such as that they are not reducing public school enrollment in the same school district, which would not account for whether or not students have access to high-quality public schools, they wrote. 

“This would empower federal reviewers to ignore state and local decisions to authorize new public charter schools,” wrote the senators. “We are concerned that these requirements would make it difficult, if not impossible, for new public charter school start-ups, and for high-performing public charter schools seeking to replicate or expand, to access CSP funding.”

Sen. Scott and his colleagues asked that Cardona revise the NPP in a manner that ensures that high-quality public charter schools are able to continue to expand using CSP funds and permit schools to apply under the most recent guidelines issued for fiscal year 2020.

“This will allow grantees to compete fairly for federal funds and give relevant stakeholders the opportunity to review and properly engage with the department on these proposed changes for consideration in future grant competitions,” they wrote.