Today, the Senate passed a resolution to overturn ESSA Accountability Rules under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
With the resolution through the House, it now moves to the President’s desk. Given the President’s prior statements indicating he would sign the resolution, this will have far-reaching consequences for your work as an authorizer.
The ESSA Accountability Rules reinforce lawmakers’ intentions that any state-mandated school improvement activity should not interfere with an authorizer’s ability to oversee its schools—a core part of the charter model’s autonomy-for-accountability agreement. Although this is explicitly permitted in ESSA statute (just as it was in NCLB), history suggests that without guidance from the US Department of Education, this policy can be overlooked or misinterpreted by states, and charter autonomy and accountability can suffer.
In short, without rules and with guidance unknown, it is more important than ever that you take action to ensure that your state plan addresses and upholds charter school autonomy and accountability.
1. Work with Your State. Nothing is stopping your state from including language in its plan that upholds charter school autonomy and accountability. Ask your state to include language that makes sure authorizers will continue to have the option to close a failing school, rather than have the school forced into a state-mandated school improvement effort. The language that was in the Accountability rules is a great template that your state can incorporate into its plan (slide 3).
2. Protect Your Data. Proactively ask both your state, your district(s), and your charter schools to deliver annual school performance data in a reliable and timely manner. We have concerns that by declining to issue guidance (including timelines), states, districts, and schools will play fast and loose with data availability. This too can be part of your state’s ESSA plan—nothing prevents your state from making commitments on data availability.
3. Cover Your Contract. Never a bad idea to have a safety net in your charter school contract. Make sure your individual contracts specify both when you receive data from the school and what happens if your state identifies one of your schools as failing. NACSA has specific language on both issues to add to your contract, available in our model contract and referenced in our new contract ESSA audit guide.
We sent a letter addressing these issues to both Secretary DeVos and congressional leadership and will continue to push for policies that uphold charter school autonomy, access, and accountability.
As the impact of this legislation unfolds, we will continue to provide more guidance for your work.