California has lost $11.5 million of its federal funding for new charter schools this year and could lose more.
The reduction came months after officials at the U.S. Department of Education warned that the state did not meet requirements of the Charter Schools Program, which funds two- and three-year grants for new charter schools, said Lupita Cortez Alcalá, a deputy superintendent with the California Department of Education.
U.S. officials said state rules don't emphasize student achievement enough in determining whether to revoke or renew charters, Alcalá said.
The federal Charter Schools Program is supposed to pay California about $50 million a year over several years, $51.6 million this year. But on Aug. 11, the state Department of Education got notice that the grant for 2011-12 would be only $40.1 million.
The state also received $9.2 million that had been deferred from last year's grant.
"This funding is the bread and butter for charter schools in California," Alcalá said. "Without this funding, not many charter schools would start up."
But it could get worse.
"The $40 million is at risk if we don't meet the special terms and conditions," Alcalá said. She said the worst-case scenario would put all the remaining grant funds at risk about $250 million.
California education officials were told in November or December that the state's Education Code didn't comply with federal regulations governing charters, Alcalá said.
"We've been communicating with the feds since, saying we think it does comply," she said.
Charter school officials say the state's charter schools are held accountable by multiple agencies.
"It's like living under a microscope in a glass house," said Eric Premack, director of the Charter Schools Development Center in Sacramento.
There have been only a few isolated cases in which school boards have looked the other way or been inattentive to bad charter schools in their districts, he said.
Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association, also disagrees with the U.S. findings.
"In California we have a robust accountability system and are working to make it stronger. I don't think it is a reason to deny any portion of this grant."
Historically, more than 60 schools a year are funded by the federal program, Wallace said. There are 39 charter schools awaiting funding and many grantees needing funding in their second and third years, Alcalá said.