New Federal Funds for Charter Startup and Expansion in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) was recently awarded a five-year, $45.8 million Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant from the US Department of Education (USDE). The purpose of the CSP grant program is to help high-quality charter schools expand and grow, while also improving instruction for all students.

In a press release, Governor Dayton noted the “essential role” that the state’s charter schools play ensuring that every student in Minnesota has a “strong start and a great education.” Similarly, Commissioner Cassellius indicated, “This new funding will help us continue our work to improve and expand access to high-quality charter schools across the state, and offer more support to the charter school leaders and educators who are key to student and schools success."

This was the first cohort of CSP grant recipients under the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Specifically, Minnesota was one of nine state education agencies to win a CSP grant, out of 22 that applied. Relatedly, seventeen charter management organizations (CMO), which are nonprofit groups that run networks of charter schools, won CSP grants.

Minnesota has previously won a CSP grant. In 2012, MDE received $28.2 million from USDE also to be used over the course of five years for grants to charter schools in the state. However, after the spring 2016 round of CSP grants and the five year grant period ended, MDE still had about $12 million in grant money remaining. In December 2016, MDE received a one-year, no cost extension from USDE for their CSP funds.

Changes to CSP Grant Program

There were several changes made to the CSP grant program under ESSA. One major change was that the State Entities (SE) Program replaced the Grant to State Educational Agencies (SEA) program. This change now allows entities like charter support organizations, governors, and state charter school boards to apply for the CSP grant funds, which were formerly only available to SEAs. As a result of this change, two of the CSP grant recipients were not SEAS—the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board and the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center.

Another change is increased flexibility in spending rules for startup funds under the SE and CMO programs. For example, schools are now allowed to use those funds to make minor facility improvements or purchase a school bus.

You can read more about the CSP grants and changes made to the program here.

What is the CSP Grant Program?

The CSP program consists of two grants—Startup and Replication/Expansion. The Startup Grant is intended for charter schools that are in development or in their first two years of operation. The award ranges from $100,000 to $225,000 each year for up to three years. In order to be eligible for the grant, the charter school must be approved by an authorizer and obtain a new charter school "affidavit" from MDE.

The Replication/Expansion Grant is for charter schools that plan to significantly expand or replicate, serve at least 200 students, and are also identified by the MDE as “high-quality”. The high-quality designation is based on multiple measures of a school’s operational, academic, and financial performance.

Like the Startup Grant, the Replication/Expansion grant award ranges from $100,000 to $225,000 each year for up to three years, with the first year intended for planning and the other two years for carrying out the expansion.

Each year, MDE carries out two grant cycles. MDE has yet to post the application for the fall 2017 CSP grant cycle.

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