Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
January 17, 2006
Archived Information

January 17, 2006

Dear Colleague:

I am pleased to write to you today to ask you and each of our colleagues who administer federal agencies to support a new federal government-wide effort to assist our nation's charter schools. This effort will focus on ensuring the inclusion of charter schools as eligible entities under appropriate federal programs that involve pre-kindergarten through twelfth-grade education.

As you may know, charter schools are publicly funded elementary and secondary schools that operate under a charter, or contract, through which the charter school receives freedom from many rules and regulations and, in return, the school is accountable for its results. Federal and state statutes generally classify charter schools as public schools, although a body or agency other than a traditional public school district may operate them.

Today, 40 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have authorized over 3,400 charter schools that serve close to one million students. The President is a strong supporter of charter schools and of the additional options they provide to parents seeking the best educational opportunities for their children. He has demonstrated his support of charter schools by including them as an integral component in his original blueprint for the historic No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and through the Administration's annual budget requests for this Department's charter schools programs.

Today, the federal government is more open to a wide variety of public education choices than ever before. For example, the Department of Education alone distributes more than $200 million each year to support the planning, design, and development of charter schools. In addition, this Department is also currently providing more than $50 million a year to assist charter schools with their facility needs. Charter schools are also affected by, and could benefit from, programs administered by other federal agencies; however, administrators of those programs do not always regard charter schools as equals with traditional public schools or local school districts.

In many federal statutes, public education entities, such as state educational agencies (SEAs) and local educational agencies (LEAs), qualify for billions of dollars in federal funding. Charter schools, however, often are not specifically mentioned in the statutes authorizing these programs and, consequently, are often overlooked as potential beneficiaries or eligible applicants. This oversight obviously adversely affects the students charter schools serve, a disproportionate number of whom are minorities and from economically disadvantaged families.

Additionally, the established methods and procedures used by federal agencies for administering grant funds and working with SEAs, LEAs, and schools oftentimes do not specifically reach charter schools. This omission frequently results in charter schools being excluded from many beneficial federal programs, further limiting charter schools as a strategic school choice option.

In the weeks ahead, the Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement will be in touch with your office to establish a point of contact for implementing this initiative and to schedule a time to discuss and review it. Should your staff have any questions, they may contact Dean Kern of the Department's Charter Schools Program by telephone at 202-260-1882 or by e-mail at <>.

Thank you in advance for your personal attention to this matter and for your assistance as we seek to provide equitable treatment for our nation's charter schools. I look forward to working with you to carry out the President's commitment to ensuring that every child has access to the educational choice option that best fits his or her needs.

  Margaret Spellings


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Last Modified: 02/08/2006