The U.S. Senate, including Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas, voted 93-7 this week to approve the FY2019 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (Labor-HHS-Education) appropriations bill. This bill includes a $445 million appropriation to the Charter Schools Program (CSP), which is a $45 million increase from FY2018, and marks the highest funding level in the program’s more than 20-year history.

The appropriation will fund grants to states, charter management organizations, and other related entities for the start-up, replication, and expansion of high-quality charter schools, including funding for facilities.  Furthermore, this appropriation includes $7.5 million to expand charter schools in rural areas. The Congress will now send FY2019 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill to President Trump for his signature.

The pathway to passing the FY2019 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill started when the Department of Education (DOE) submitted its budget request to the White House in February of 2018, which President Trump released to Congress for review. In early June, the DOE testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies to justify the request for additional CSP funding. The DOE representative delivered the following testimony:

“Our request would provide significant new resources dedicated to helping achieve the President’s goal of giving every student the freedom to attend a school that best meets his or her unique needs…The Budget requests support for charter schools by providing an increase of $100 million—for a total of $500 million—and continues support for magnet schools. We also are proposing to expand use of Direct Student Services to allow States to reserve up to five percent of their Title I allocations to further expand educational freedom, including helping students transfer to a school that better meets individual needs.”

In June, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee released its draft of the FY2019 Labor-HHS-Education funding bill. In this draft, the House recommended a $450 million appropriation to the CSP. The Committee then sent the funding bill—named H.B. 6157—to the House for full review. The House finally passed the funding bill 359-4. All of Texas’ 36 representatives in the House voted in favor of H.B. 6157. After voting on numerous amendments in August, the Senate passed the funding bill 85-7.

In early September, members from both houses met to debate a senate amendments, to which the House was opposed. A Joint House and Senate Conference Committee on H.B. 6157 then convened to discuss and vote on the FY2019 Labor, Health and Human Services Education appropriations bill. These members filed H.R. 6157, which the joint House and Senate Conference Committee approved thereafter.

Disbursement of CSP Funding

The U.S. Congress gives the Department of Education’s (DOE) Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) authority to distribute CSP funds. The OII distributes CSP funds to state agencies as a block grant and directly to charter districts through competitive grants. These competitive grants the Office of Innovation and Improvement offer include the following:

New CSP Funding Impact Texas Charter Schools

From 2009 to 2018, no Texas charter school received competitive grants from the OII. However, in 2017, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) received $59.2 million from the OII’s Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter Schools Program (CSP) Grants to State Entities. TEA awarded these funds to 13 different charter districts on a competitive basis through the state’s “2018-2020 Charter School Program High-Quality Replication” grant.

Because Congress will likely appropriate $445 million in CSP funding for FY2019 (pending a presidential signature), charter districts will now have access to more federal funding than they had in previous fiscal years. This likely means that there will be more awards given for each type of competitive grant for FY2019 than in the past. Congress’ new CSP appropriation is important because funding for facilities is usually difficult to obtain in Texas for charter districts, since charters cannot levy property taxes.  Texas charter districts can apply for these competitive grants directly through either the OII or TEA and use them for funding facilities. To qualify for competitive CSP funding through TEA, charter districts may be classified under Subchapters C and D in the Texas Education Code.

In addition, the OII and TEA award CSP funds to support the replication of charters with high academic achievement. Therefore, to win both OII and TEA grants for opening or expanding charter schools, districts must demonstrate that they can generate high levels of academic achievement. This requirement could preclude Texas charter districts that are earning less than a C on their district scorecard, which is equivalent to the previous accountability system’s “Met Standard.” Texas charter districts could win more of these competitive grants if they implement programs that are most likely to increase student achievement.

One way to learn how to increase student achievement is to attend one of several sessions at TCSA’s Texas Charter Schools Conference. This conference will take place in Houston Oct. 24-26.