Charter Schools:

Issues Affecting Access to Federal Funds

T-HEHS-97-216: Published: Sep 16, 1997. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1997.

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GAO discussed charter schools' ability to access categorical education grant funds, focusing on: (1) how federal title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals With Disabilities Education (IDEA) funds are distributed to charter schools, and the opinions of charter school operators on whether the distribution is equitable; and (2) what factors appear to be facilitating and impeding charter schools in accessing these funds.

GAO noted that: (1) title I and IDEA funds are allocated to schools that meet established federal, state, and local demographic criteria; (2) these criteria relate to the number of enrolled children from low-income families and the number of enrolled children with disabilities that require special education services; (3) although most public schools receive funding under these programs, some public schools, including some charter schools, do not meet eligibility criteria and, as a result, do not receive funding; (4) GAO's preliminary work suggests that states are allocating federal funds to charter schools in much the same manner as they allocate funds to traditional public schools; (5) in general, states either treat charter schools as individual school districts or as components of existing districts; (6) although charter schools treated as school districts avoid having to meet additional criteria used to distribute funds beyond the district level, GAO's survey results thus far indicate that these schools were no more likely to have received title I and IDEA funds for the 1996-97 school year than were charter schools treated as components of existing school districts; (7) most charter school operators surveyed who expressed an opinion told GAO that they believe they received an equitable share of federal title I and IDEA funds; (8) while charter schools do not appear to be at a disadvantage in terms of how federal funds are allocated, GAO's survey has revealed a variety of barriers that have made it difficult for charter schools to access title I and IDEA funds; (9) these factors include a lack of enrollment and student eligibility data to submit to states before funding allocation decisions are made and the time required and the costs involved in applying for such funds, given the amount of funds available; (10) in addition, some charter schools have failed to meet statutory eligibility requirements for receiving federal funds; (11) charter school operators most often cited training and technical assistance as factors that facilitated their accessing title I and IDEA funds; (12) on the basis of survey responses, some states appear to be making a comprehensive effort to inform charter schools of the availability of federal funds and how to apply for them; and (13) charter school operators in other states told GAO that they received technical assistance from local school districts, while other charter school operators employed consultants to assist them.

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