The Biden administration is set to impose new rules for federal education grants that critics say are designed to cripple the growth of public charter schools.
The Department of Education has proposed updated requirements that charter schools must meet to access the approximately $440 million in federal grants that are primarily used for start-up costs and technology implementation.
The new requirements help fulfill a campaign promise made by President Biden to rein in the nation’s growing network of charter schools. It was a promise backed by the country’s teachers’ unions.
To get the federal grant under the new rules, charter schools would first have to prove that the surrounding school district has “unmet demand” that will be met by the charter school, including “any public school over-enrollment.” existing” or other information showing that the school would respond to “a demand for specialized pedagogical approaches”.
It would also impose new diversity requirements for new charter schools in minority communities and remove federal funds for public charter schools run entirely by for-profit companies.
Charter school advocates say the new rules are intended to limit the movement of charter schools by cutting off federal funds.
“You can’t simultaneously say, as the proposed regulations do, that it’s a good thing to listen to communities and families, and then severely restrict the ability of communities to open schools that meet those needs,” he said. said Karega Rausch, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, told The Washington Times.
Education Department officials said the new rules, which would be imposed after a 30-day comment period ending in mid-April, would improve quality and accountability at charter schools. They also said the new rules align with “the priorities and commitments of the Biden-Harris administration.
Indeed, Mr. Biden pledged during the 2020 campaign to end federal funding for for-profit charter schools, which would be partially achieved in the proposed new rule, and to take steps to limit charters. underperforming.
The number of charter schools has more than doubled in the past 15 years to about 7,700 schools serving 3.4 million students, according to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.
There are thousands of students on waiting lists to get into charter schools across the county.
Mr Biden’s pledge to change the country’s growing charter school system echoed concerns from teachers’ unions that publicly funded but privately run schools are taking money away from public schools traditional while lacking the same degree of accountability.
He told an audience at a 2019 public school forum that his administration would not buy into Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ strong advocacy for school choice and school choice. expansion of the country’s charter school system.
“If I’m president,” Mr. Biden promised, “the whole notion of Betsy DeVos [of charter schools] are gone.”
Ms DeVos was a leading advocate for charter schools before becoming Mr Trump’s education secretary.
Charter schools are not-for-profit organizations but may be run in part or in whole by for-profit corporations, an arrangement which critics say lacks transparency and can prevent a school from acting in the best interest students. Under the new rule, schools run entirely by for-profit companies would no longer have access to federal funding.
Charter schools are primarily funded by states and local school systems, but approximately 45% rely on federal funding available through the grant program. the The Department of Education reports that the average price for participating public charter schools was around $500,000 during the 2016-17 school year.
Charter school advocates say the new rule to prove overcapacity will make it harder for new charter schools to access federal grants in places where there are long waiting lists of students trying to get in. escape from underperforming traditional public schools that have lost enrollment because families are fleeing the system.
In Washington, for example, the city’s school system is operating well below capacity, and nearly half of all public students attend charter schools.
School enrollment declined in traditional public schools in the 2021-2022 school year and increased in public city charter schools.
“It’s an argument for having more exit options for kids who are stuck in schools that aren’t working for them,” said Corey DeAngelis, national director of research for the American Children’s Federation, a group defense of school choice.
The Department of Education’s new hurdle, DeAngelis said, “is an approach that focuses on what’s best for teachers’ unions and buildings, when it comes to schools on status quo.”
Critics also said the new diversity requirements to access federal grants would be a difficult standard for many charter schools to meet.
Department of Education officials who administer the grants would prioritize charter school applicants “who plan to operate or manage high-quality charter schools with racially and socio-diverse groups of students.” -economic”.
For schools where such diversity is not possible, those requesting the funds should provide a plan to ensure that their charter school “will not increase racial or socio-economic segregation or isolation in those schools. “.
Charter school advocates say the diversity rule ignores the high number of charter schools operating in minority communities that most need alternatives to underperforming traditional public schools.
“Requiring all charter schools to follow the same prescriptive measures could have a negative impact, particularly on charter schools seeking to open in historically segregated communities and those with role models of cultural affirmation,” Ms. Rausch.
Another proposed rule would require grant applicants to include proposals to “collaborate with at least one traditional public school or traditional school district in an activity that would benefit all partners in the collaboration and lead to increased educational opportunities.” and better student outcomes.
Charter school advocates say the new rule would reduce autonomy and restore the control of public schools and teachers’ unions that parents and students seek to escape when enrolling in charter schools.
Department of Education officials said the new proposals are intended to help grant administrators properly review and assess those seeking money for federal charter schools.
“These proposed requirements and assurances would also help ensure that all students have access to high-quality, diverse, and equitable learning opportunities in their communities, which should be a goal of all public schools,” the department said. by proposing the change of rules.
Teachers’ unions and other public school advocates have demanded more regulation and even an outright ban on new charter schools, which they say diverts money from traditional and more heavily unionized public schools.
The Los Angeles Teachers Union, for example, pushed the city to impose a moratorium on new charter schools and called in its negotiations to end a six-day strike in 2019. The moratorium was never lifted. passed by the city council, but the California legislature passed a new law in 2019 giving local school districts more power to reject new charter schools.
According to a 2017 study by the University of Arkansas, charter schools typically receive about 29% less public funding per student than traditional public schools.
Donald Cohen, executive director of public services advocacy group In the Public Interest, said he welcomed the proposed rule change.
Charter schools proliferated rapidly but without sufficient oversight, leading to segregation, lack of accountability and closures, he said.
The proposed enrollment impact rule, he said, is intended to prevent neighborhoods from being inundated with new charter schools that cause a debilitating drop in regular public school enrollment.
“Because of the growth, we have to sort of streamline the system,” Cohen said. “There needs to be those kinds of regulations and rules to be able to create charters that are really needed, that are really diverse, and that really achieve the original purpose of sharing and learning to teach children in a changing world. “