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Highlights

Charter schools are public schools that are granted increased autonomy by states in exchange for meeting specified academic goals. State law determines who approves the formation of a charter school, often the board of education. As public schools, charter schools are subject to the performance requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) as well. In this environment, states' systems for allowing charter schools flexibility and ensuring school performance and financial integrity assume greater importance. GAO examined (1) how states allow charter schools flexibility, (2) how states promote accountability for school performance and financial integrity for charter schools, (3) the implications of NCLBA for charter schools, and (4) the role the Department of Education (Education) plays in charter school accountability. GAO surveyed the 39 states and jurisdictions with operating charter schools in 2002-03 and interviewed charter school experts and Education officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education To help the department in carrying out its responsibilities related to monitoring federal funds for charter schools and to provide further information on charter schools as an educational reform, the Secretary of Education should support implementation of the PBDMI's financial performance information component by assisting states in developing automated financial information systems to measure and track the disbursement of funds to the charter school level.
Closed - Implemented
Education developed a national-level Charter School Program (CSP) grantee data base that links school-level CSP grant award amounts and indicators of program accomplishment. In February 2008, Education's contractor WestEd linked grant award amounts and program performance information from the data collection form for all CSP grantees that it developed to EDFacts, Education's new national-level performance-based data system that replaced the PBDMI. The financial information collected has allowed Education not only to monitor disbursement of CSP program funds to the charter school level, but also to use the financial information in assessing program performance.
Department of Education To help the department in carrying out its responsibilities related to monitoring federal funds for charter schools and to provide further information on charter schools as an educational reform, the Secretary of Education should require Charter School Program grantees to include in their annual performance reports standard indicators of program accomplishments, in particular, the number of schools started through use of grant funds.
Closed - Implemented
To address this recommendation, the Department of Education developed an automated data collection form for Charter School Program (CSP) performance information and requires CSP grantees to complete it annually. In 2006, Education contracted with WestED to create a CSP grantee data collection form to collect data annually on program accomplishments, including grant funds obligated and the number of schools started with the use of grant funds. The data collection form was sent initially to CSP grantees in May 2007.
Department of Education To help the department in carrying out its responsibilities related to monitoring federal funds for charter schools and to provide further information on charter schools as an educational reform, the Secretary of Education should require that the planned charter school impact evaluation design include an analysis of the effects of accountability practices on charter schools' performance.
Closed - Implemented
In 2008, Education developed measures of charter school student achievement, based on No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) proficiency rates, for all charter schools. For Charter School Program (CSP) grantees, these measures serve as additional indicators of charter school-level program performance. The measures are calculated annually in the national-level CSP grantee data base by linking school-level CSP grantee data, including grant funds obligated and the number of schools started with the use of grant funds, with NCLBA student achievement data from EdFacts. Moreover, because EdFacts links to the Consolidated State Performance Report, which includes information on NCLBA accountability practices for all charter schools, including those that receive CSP funds, Education is able to develop NCLBA performance information for all charter schools annually.

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