Assessment of Charter Schools Program Dissemination Funding
Since the first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992, the charter school movement has emerged as one of the most rapidly growing reform efforts in U.S. education. Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to operate free of many of the regulations and restrictions that govern traditional public schools.
Charter school founders and their sponsors (i.e., authorizers) agree on a contract—a charter—that outlines what the school expects to accomplish academically within a certain number of years. If the school is not able to meet the goals of its charter in the specified time period, the sponsor can terminate the charter and close the school.
Proponents see charter schools as valuable research and development sites for successful practices. But if an effective charter school is to benefit students other than its own, those practices must be disseminated, either through replication in new schools or by being shared with existing schools. To this end, federal policymakers, in 1998, established the dissemination grant program as part of their broader charter school funding strategy. Under the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP), state education agencies (SEAs) receive funds that they then award to individual charter schools.
Originally, all of the funds went to start-up and development grants, but, starting in 1998, the federal government allowed states to set aside money for dissemination. A SEA may choose to reserve up to 10 percent of its CSP grant funds to support dissemination activities. In their initial applications for CSP funds, state applicants indicate whether they plan to participate in the dissemination grant program, and briefly describe how they plan to use these funds.
The dissemination grant program represents a potentially powerful national resource to generate the kind of widespread improvement in public education that charter school proponents and state legislators originally envisioned.
This report examines whether the program as currently administered is having the desired impact on student performance, and makes recommendations to strengthen future dissemination efforts.
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