Did you know that many, but not all, charter schools are treated as their own school district by their state government? This is very important because it impacts how funding flows to the school and determines factors related to how the school operates day to day.
Each state decides whether a charter school is legally its own district, part of another district, or some combination of the two. The legal designation as a district or part of a district, also referred to as Local Educational Agency (LEA) status, is a big deal.
Why does LEA status matter?
LEAs get federal education funds directly from the State Educational Agency (SEA). That means charter schools designated as their own LEA receive federal funds directly from the state, while charter schools that are part of an LEA receive those funds through their district—and sometimes at the discretion of the district. This arrangement tends to result in a timelier allotment of funds for charter schools that are their own LEAs. That can have a large impact when operating a school.
For example, in January 2022, the U.S. Department of Education announced that all $122 billion of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding had been successfully distributed to SEAs. These funds were intended to help schools mitigate the impact of pandemic-related costs and reopen safely. Given the urgency of school reopening and the many unknown variables impacting schools during the pandemic, receiving the correct amount of funding on time was critical for uninterrupted school operations.
Further, LEA status plays an important role in how charter schools are expected to serve their students with disabilities. Under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) SEAs are responsible for the implementing legal requirements. SEAs, in most cases, delegate that responsibility to individual LEAs. Therefore, charter schools that are their own LEAs receive IDEA funding directly from the state, have significant flexibility in program operation, and are expected to provide students with disabilities a full continuum of services within the school. Charter schools that are part of an LEA receive funding through the district and can rely on resources and services from the district but are also afforded less autonomy over their programming. LEA status for purposes of special education is a complex issue, explained in further detail here.
Whether charter schools are designated as their own LEA, part of an LEA, or somewhere in between is important to know. It varies by state and can have a major impact on the charter sector and education ecosystem more broadly.
LEA status of charter schools by state
A charter school is its own LEA: Arizona, Delaware, District of Columbia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, West Virginia
A charter school is part of an LEA: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wyoming
A district-authorized charter school is part of an LEA and a state-authorized charter school is its own LEA: Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas
A charter school’s LEA status does not align with the above categories: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin
Katie Burke is the senior director of policy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.