March 2011 Newsletter: Charter Schools Can Tap Into a Wide Range of Federal Discretionary Grants

31 Mar, 2011

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Charter Schools Can Tap Into a Wide Range of Federal Discretionary Grants

Charter schools are eligible for a wide range of federal grants, from not only the U.S. Department of Education but also a variety of federal agencies that support education. This newsletter feature provides a framework for pursuing discretionary federal grants, examples of grants from different agencies, and resources that offer greater detail and references. Federal discretionary grants are different from federal formula funding, where, for example, Congress prescribes funding each year based on specific calculations, such as the number of students meeting certain criteria. With discretionary grants, a competitive program is designed, applications are solicited, and the proposals that best meet the objective of the program are awarded funding.

The types of discretionary grants run the gamut from programs totaling hundreds of millions of dollars to those providing just a few thousand dollars. The level of commitment needed on the part of the applicant also varies. Major grants have extensive and detailed applications and require rigorous accountability. The requirements for some minor grants can be as simple as writing an application letter and agreeing to report the results. The types and structures of grant programs, as well as funding levels, change regularly to accommodate new circumstances. Sometimes matching funds are required. The eligibility of charter schools may not be stated explicitly in every federal grant announcement. An announcement may refer to only public schools, local education agencies (LEAs), or nonprofit organizations as eligible entities. The same grant programs are not necessarily offered every year, and funding cycles vary by agency and program. To help the charter school community keep up with developments, the National Charter School Resource Center (Resource Center) will launch a new section of its website that will track grant opportunities. It will elaborate on grant awards and provide information designed to streamline the charter school community's access to and understanding of grant opportunities.

The key federal program for providing grants to support the development of high-quality charter schools is the U.S. Department of Education's Charter Schools Program (CSP). Appropriations for the program have increased from $211 million in 2008 to $256 million in 2010. The program mainly provides grants to state education agencies (SEAs) in states that allow charter schools. Twelve such grants totaling $136 million were awarded in 2010, including one to the District of Columbia. Those agencies then provide "subgrants" on a competitive basis to support local charter schools in their regions. For more information about applying for a subgrant, charter school developers should contact their SEA. The program also sets aside funds to support individual charter school developers, in cases where an SEA has not applied for or has not received a CSP grant; charter management organizations, for replicating and expanding schools; and facilities financing, among other efforts.

This spring and summer, CSP will conduct grant competitions to award what is expected to be more than $100 million in new grants, including awards to charter schools, state charter school programs, charter management organizations, and institutions that provide credit enhancement to support the development of charter school facilities.

Charter school operators have found ways to participate in other grant programs offered by the Department of Education. Among the 62 winners in the 2010 Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) competition, there were 11 grants totaling about $93.7 million for projects focused on charter schools, according to a review by the Resource Center. The TIF program seeks to strengthen the education profession by rewarding excellence and attracting teachers and principals to high-need areas.

Charter schools have been part of partnerships that have won federal grants. When the Department of Education announced the winners of the Promise Neighborhoods Planning Grants competition in 2010, only 1 charter school was listed among the grantees. But a Resource Center review of the projects showed that, of the 21 grantees, at least 6 involved charter schools. The 21 awards totaled about $10 million. The program is designed to improve the achievement of students living in poverty. The grantees and their partners are to plan integrated services--including programs to improve the health, safety, and stability of neighborhoods--and boost family engagement in student learning. Proposed priorities for the program in 2011 have been issued for public comment.

Charter schools also can join with higher education institutions or certain kinds of nonprofit organizations to qualify for grants. For example, the Department of Education in 2010 awarded at least three charter school organizations grants totaling nearly $2 million under the Teaching American History program. The charter school grants, among 124 grants totaling $115.3 million, were awarded to the Amber Charter School in New York City, $499,998; the Harlem Day Charter School in New York City, $490,666; and the Algiers Charter School Association in Louisiana, $999,750. Details about the charter school projects are available by going to the awards section of the program's website, clicking on the abstracts and then the state, and scrolling to the specific project. A key element of eligibility was that the charter schools serve as their own LEA. The program, which is being changed, has been designed to raise student achievement by improving teachers' understanding of U.S. history.

Charter schools can form other types of partnerships to qualify for grants. One example is the Fund for the Improvement of Education, which, through the Full-Service Community Schools program, supports efforts to coordinate academic, social, and health services through a variety of organizations to improve student achievement. Eligible applicants are listed by the Department of Education as a consortium of an LEA and at least one community-based organization, nonprofit organizations, or other public or private entities. Among the 2010 award grantees were three charter school organizations: Bert Corona Charter School for a project in California's San Fernando Valley; Green Dot Public Schools for a project in Los Angeles; and East Austin College Prep Academy Inc. for a project in Austin, Texas. All three projects involve multiple partners.

Charter Schools Win Grants From an Array of Federal Agencies

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded discretionary grants to charter schools through its YouthBuild program, which supports out-of-school youths with construction training, high school completion programs, and general educational development programs. In 2009, the program awarded $687,500 to both the Latin American Youth Center YouthBuild Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., and the Philadelphia Youth for Change Charter School in Philadelphia.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a federal agency, has provided grants to support charter schools, according to Sally Gifford, an agency public affairs specialist.For example, an $18,000 NEA grant to Asian Americans United Inc. provided support for the development of arts-integrated programs for students at the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures School (FACTS), a Philadelphia charter school, as well as professional development for teachers and support for school residencies for artists. An article about the FACTS program appeared in the NEA Arts Magazine in 2009. The agency also provided the Renaissance Arts Academy Charter School in Los Angeles with $40,000 for a project to support afterschool and summer programs led by professional artists in music and dance for middle and high school students. More information is available about NEA Arts Education grant opportunities.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers support for a variety of education grant programs for which charter schools are eligible. For example, the NOAA Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program provides support for experiential learning. An announcement for the B-WET program for California says that grants typically range from $30,000 to $60,000. But the NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries Ocean Guardian Programs offer smaller grants, with far simpler application and accountability requirements. For 2011, in the California region, the program awarded the Sebastopol Independent Charter School in Sonoma County a $5,980 grant for a watershed restoration project with the City of Sebastopol. And the Monterey Bay Charter School in Monterey County received $6,000 for a similar project involving preservation efforts for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Environmental Education grants program has supported charter schools, both directly and indirectly. In Massachusetts, for example, Tent City Corporation, a nonprofit organization in Boston, received $4,800 in 2004 to support implementing a fuel cell environmental education unit as part of the Boston Renaissance Charter School's eighth-grade science curriculum. In Philadelphia, a $9,574 grant was awarded in 2004 to Mast Community Charter School for students to develop strategies to better control storm water runoff. And in 2000, $4,950 was awarded to support environmental curriculum training for teachers at the Integrated Day Charter School in Norwich, Connecticut. This project involved a partnership with Eastern Connecticut State University and the state Department of Environmental Protection and called for the training to be used as a model for other charter schools in the state.

Since 1992, 3,424 grants totaling about $48.6 million have been awarded nationwide under the EPA Environmental Education program, with 1,802 of those grants going to nonprofit organizations and 569 going to schools, school districts, or boards. Profiles of grants from the Environmental Education program are available.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) offers many school support programs that are cataloged on the education section of the agency's website. For example, the agency provides grants through its Robotics Alliance Project to support teams for robotics competitions. Among the 278 recipients of $5,000 or $6,500 grants for 2011, according to a NASA announcement , there were at least three charter schools: Friendship Public Charter Schools Collegiate Academy of Washington, D.C., $5,000; Escondido Charter High School of Escondido, California, $5,000; and River Springs Charter School of Temecula, California, $6,500. The agency also offers an e-mail service that provides weekly updates about opportunities at the agency.

At the National Science Foundation (NSF), grants typically are related to research--but not always. For example, a $39,055 grant from NSF was awarded in 2009 to plan a partnership involving, among others, Cornell University and KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) New York City charter schools, to enhance participation in geosciences of underrepresented minorities and improve earth sciences education at four KIPP middle schools and one high school.

Sometimes, no specific program is defined. Willie C. Taylor, Regional Director of the Philadelphia Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA), told the Resource Center in an interview that he was unaware of any grants being awarded to a charter school through his office. He said the EDA's funding programs focus on economic development projects and typically do not serve the K-12 education arena. But he said that does not mean a charter school could not qualify for a grant or be part of a partnership that would qualify. Taylor said it would depend on the proposal.

So it is important for charter schools, in searching for grants, to consider creative approaches and search for opportunities that exist not only for LEAs but also for nonprofit organizations.


Guidance Issued on School Absences Tied to Military Deployment

The Department of Education has issued guidance to superintendents and chief state school officers regarding public school attendance policies and the children of military-connected families who are facing unique challenges in connection with deployments.

A letter to superintendents from the Department of Education stated, "As we enter our nation's 10th year of continuous combat operations, the stresses borne by our military families continue to grow." More than 120,000 of the 1.2 million school-age children of armed services members have a parent currently deployed to a combat zone.

Military families often ask schools to grant their children excused absences so the family can spend extended time together before a deployment, during mid-tour breaks, and after the military parent returns. Deployment-related absences, however, can cause challenges for schools and school districts because increased absenteeism can reduce educational outcomes.

The Department of Education's guidance provides information for school districts seeking examples of successful practices that address the needs of military families, while maintaining high standards and upholding established attendance policies.

D.C. Owes Charters More Clarity on Surplus Building Decisions, GAO Report Says

Washington, D.C., officials are clarifying the way they handle charter schools' offers for surplus public school buildings in the wake of a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that recommended greater transparency and documentation.

Although its recommendations focus on the surplus property issue, the March 2011 report, as a whole, provides a deep description of the charter school milieu in the nation's capital, where charter schools account for about 40 percent of all public school enrollments. The report includes a review of the D.C. Public Charter School Board's new system for overseeing charter schools and provides details about the funding and characteristics of the city's charter schools.

Charter Network's Teacher Evaluation System Highlighted in Aspen Institute Report

A March 2011 report from the Aspen Institute provides an extensive description of the Achievement First charter school network's new system for managing the performance of teachers. The report, Achievement First: Developing a Teacher Performance Management System That Recognizes Excellence , includes the school's "Essentials of Effective Instruction" and a copy of the "Professional Growth Plan" form; it also outlines the stages of teacher career development, including salary ranges.

The report was released March 22, 2011, at a forum in Washington, D.C., where Sarah Coon, Chief of Staff at Achievement First, shared the stage with Jason Kamras, Chief of Human Capital for the District of Columbia Public Schools; Rachel Curtis, a Human Capital Strategies for Urban Schools consultant who wrote the report; and Ross Wiener, Executive Director of the Institute's Education and Society Program.

Special Education Cooperatives Can Work for Charter Schools, Study Finds

A new study from the Resource Center states that special education cooperatives can be an effective way for charter schools to join together to provide services to students with disabilities; however, making the model work is no walk in the park. The findings of the study were the focus of the Resource Center's February newsletter.

Top Charters Need Greater Emphasis on Expansion, Says PPI, Public Impact Report

A recent report from the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) and Public Impact suggests that the best charter school organizations could greatly expand their reach by adopting high growth as a top priority and using the methods of businesses that have grown dramatically. The report, Going Exponential: Growing the Charter School Sector's Best, says that perhaps the most important barrier to fast growth for charter schools is an "insidious fear factor that stifles fresh thinking and the will to grow."



  • May 12: A full-day conference in New Orleans focused on strategies for high-quality urban public school reform will be held by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Charter School Resource Center. "Transforming Urban Public Education: Exploring the Potential of City-Based Strategies" will feature presenters with deep experience in school reform. There is no registration fee to attend. Register now for this event. To receive the group hotel rate, you must book your hotel reservations by April 11.
  • June 20-23: The National Charter Schools Conference 2011, themed "Because Every Child Can Succeed," will be held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Registration is open, and information about the program, accommodations, and discounts is available through the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
  • August 1-3: The Office of Special Education Programs of the Department of Education will hold its 2011 Leadership Mega Conference in Crystal City, Virginia, located just outside Washington, D.C. Online registration is expected to be available in May. A wide range of sessions is planned to increase opportunities for collaboration and networking.
  • October 24-27: The National Association of Charter School Authorizers will host its 2011 Leadership Conference on Amelia Island, located near Jacksonville, Florida.