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Department of Ed. Outlines Proposed Priorities for Charter School Grantees

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Charter school operators competing for federal grants are getting a first look at what the U.S. Department of Education would like to see in this year's applications—and a chance to respond to those five proposed priorities before they become final.

The department awarded the grants in 2006 and 2010 without outlining priorities or giving preferences to specific types of projects, says the proposal, which appeared in the Dec. 2 edition of the Federal Register. As a result, the applications varied widely in scope and content.

To focus the proposals and give preference to those that tackle some of the most pressing issues facing the charter school community, the department has laid out five specific priorities for this year's round of applicants.

They are:

Improving efficiency through economies of scale—Applicants addressing this priority are not required to be a part of a consortium when applying but "must include plans for developing a consortium, or consortia of charter schools that will share systems for acquiring goods or services," says the document. Partnering in order to achieve economies of scale is an essential step to increasing the number of high-quality charters across the U.S., asserts the document, written by Nadya Chinoy Dabby, the associate assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Improving accountability—The performance of charter schools ranges from high-quality to low-performing, says the proposal. This priority focuses on strengthening the authorizing process so that low-performing charters are less likely to open and underperforming charters can be closed.

Students with disabilities—Charter schools typically educate a smaller percentage of students with disabilities than traditional public schools, for a variety of reasons. This priority encourages applicants to focus on how charters can leverage their autonomy and ability to innovate to better recruit and serve students with disabilities.

English-language learners—Charter schools are well-suited to serve English-language learners, says the proposal, and this priority gives preference to applicants that specifically develop strategies to improve achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment rates for that growing population of students.

Personalized technology-enabled learning—Charter schools "are uniquely positioned to contribute to the development and implementation of instructional models that effectively incorporate technology-enabled personalized learning tools and supports for high-need students," says the document. Whether it be online or blended learning or integrating technology into instruction to better support students, this priority encourages applicants to expand those efforts.

The public is invited to send comments surrounding the proposed priorities to the U.S. Department of Education by Jan. 2, 2014. The final priorities will be announced at a later date in the Federal Register.

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