Federal Policy 103: Alphabet Soup


Authorizers are the primary body responsible for charter school oversight, but many federal entities—via their role in federal policy development, implementation, and/or oversight—can also play a role in charter school oversight.  As discussed in Federal Policy 101 and Federal Policy 102, this is often done by overseeing direct and indirect requirements on charter schools that relate to the receipt of money and ensuring fairness.

US Congress

Congress creates federal law, with most federal education policies advanced through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  The new law is called the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.


The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce consider education legislation. The members of the committee—especially the respective chairs and ranking-members—are considered Congressional leaders on all issues related to education and generally have a significant influence on federal education legislation. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) is Congress’s independent, non-partisan investigative agency that can prepare research, audit agency operations, prepare policy analysis, and investigate allegations of illegal or improper activities.


Every year Congress must act to appropriate funding for the federal government. This is done through an annual appropriations bill that traditionally funds the government from October 1st to September 30th.  This process is handled by the Appropriations Committees in both the Senate and the House.  The Appropriations Committees are broken up into subcommittees with delegated responsibilities over a specific collection of spending bills.  The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies appropriations bill (known as LHHS) directs most education spending, and is handled by the LHHS Appropriations subcommittees in the Senate and House.

US Department of Education

The US Department of Education interprets the law and sets regulations, rules, and/or guidance. The Department is further divided into various offices with different responsibilities (a full org chart can be found here). Those that have interacted with charter schools in the past include:

Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE)

  • Oversees many aspects of K-12 education, including state Title plans and associated compliance.
  • An authorizer may interact with this office when its state or the charter schools within its portfolio are collecting and reporting on required information, including enrollment and annual assessment data.

Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII)

  • Administers and oversees many federal grant programs, including all Title IV Expanding Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools grant programs (formerly under Title V as the Charter School Program).
  • An authorizer may interact with this office when its state or a charter school in its portfolio is the recipient of a grant through the charter school program. A state with a grant may offer additional resources for authorizers or may place additional policy or reporting requirements on its authorizing sector. A charter school with a grant will have additional grant deliverables related to its award and will likely have to make additional reports to the State or the OII related to grant spending and compliance.

Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

  • Responsible for ensuring equal access to education in all schools, primarily through the enforcement of civil rights provisions and collection of data. OCR can launch large or small investigations, receive and act on complaints, and collect data on education and civil rights issues.
  • An authorizer may interact with this office when OCR issues guidance on the application and enforcement of civil rights law, collects data, conducts systematic investigations or research, or investigates a specific school or network of schools because of a complaint or other issue.

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)

  • Awards and oversees formula and competitive grants for special education, largely authorized by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and issues guidance on the proper construction and implementation of federal laws that protect the rights of students with disabilities. OSERS includes two divisions: the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).
  • An authorizer may interact with this office when OSERS issues guidance on federal special education law, or when the State or an individual school reports on its use of IDEA funds, which may include reporting student enrollment data and certifying compliance with IDEA. OSEP also reviews IEPs and interviews parents, students, and school staff as part of its IDEA state monitoring process.

Office of Inspector General (OIG)

  • Conducts independent audits, investigations, and inspections of the US Department of Education programs, makes policy recommendations, and advises the Secretary and Congress when there is a need for corrective action.
  • An authorizer may interact with this office when OIG conducts an investigation of a US Department of Education program that charter schools participate in. This could include an examination of how program funds are spent (such as Title I, or a specific grant program), or an examination of program activities or outcomes.