The Colorado Department of Education has received $55 million in federal grant money to help new and expanding charter schools with start-up costs and other expenditures.
“If you have funding to cover furniture and technology, it makes it a lot more viable to get started,” said Bill Kottenstette, executive director for schools of choice within the Colorado Department of Education.
The Colorado Department of Education is one of eight states to get so-called state entities grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement. The grants were announced earlier this month.
New charter schools and existing charter school networks with a successful track record that want to open additional schools or add grade levels are eligible for the grants. The state hopes to provide assistance to as many as 45 charter schools over the five-year period of the grant. Charter schools are publicly funded, but independent boards, not the district school board, run them.
Schools can use the grant money to cover start-up costs, including furniture, technology, curriculum, and planning services.
While charters are not permitted to use the money to buy a school building — and amid Denver metro area’s booming market, real estate remains a major challenge for such schools — they can use the funds for campus repairs or to purchase a school bus.
That type of spending on facilities and transportation is new under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which governs this grant program. A similar, previous federal grant program was governed by No Child Left Behind and did not cover repairs or transportation.
Colorado will award the money through four competitive grant cycles, with 11 to 12 schools funded per cycle. State officials anticipate giving grants of around $1 million to each new school or expansion proposal, but the amounts could vary depending on the number of high-scoring applications. Some of the grant money will go toward programs that aim to improve the quality of charter schools through training for administrators and boards of directors.
There’s also money to teach school districts best practices for reviewing and authorizing charter school applications.
Charter schools can apply for grants under this program starting in August 2019.
It was also announced this month that the Colorado Charter School Institute received $2.6 million through the federal National Dissemination Grant, which supports efforts to spread good practices in the charter sector, particularly around serving disadvantaged students.
The Institute oversees 39 schools in Colorado that are authorized at the state rather than district level.
Colorado is working with Florida and California as part of the Tri-State Alliance for Improving District-Led Authorizing. The alliance provides training and support to school districts — especially small and rural ones — tasked with evaluating new charter applications, then authorizing or denying them. One goal of the alliance is to help charter operators best serve students from low-income families, those with disabilities, and those learning English.
“CSI’s statutory mission is to foster high-quality charter schools, with a particular focus on those serving at-risk students,” Terry Croy Lewis, the institute’s executive director, said in a press release about the grant. “This is an organizational priority for us. … I see this grant as the natural continuation and expansion of this work that is at the heart of our mission.”