Biden administration relaxes new charter school rules

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Under pressure from charter school advocates, the Biden administration said Wednesday that some of the difficulties new rules for federal funding are not as difficult as they seem.

In a series of tweetsthe Department of Education said it supports high-quality charter schools and tried to clarify some of its proposed priorities for a start-up grant program.

Still, the agency’s clarifications failed to mention the biggest proposed change, which would prevent for-profit management companies from contracting to run virtually any aspect of charter schools that are officially nonprofit.

“Our proposed priorities [for grants] aim to ensure that students receive the highest quality education in excellent public charter schools,” agency press secretary Kelly Leon said. said on Twitter.

The statement comes as hundreds of parents and charter school advocates arrived in Washington for a rally outside the White House on Wednesday, followed by lobby tours on Capitol Hill. Another sign of public interest, the proposed rules for the subsidy program attracted over 26,000 public comments, an unusually large response.

“They’re beating on charter schools and they just need to back off,” said Gregory Harrington, who lives near Austin, where his fifth-grade daughter attends Harmony School of Science, a charter program. He estimated that about 180 other Texas parents attended the rally with him.

“We don’t want them closing our schools,” said Malachi Armstrong, whose 6-year-old daughter attends West Philadelphia Achievement Charter School. He said he’s worried about the fate of his school, though the funding at issue is for start-up expenses at new schools, not ongoing operations.

He added that the school is encouraging students and parents to travel to DC for the rally as a field trip. Others said their flights were paid for by charter school advocacy groups.

A group of parents spoke outside the Department of Education on Wednesday morning before gathering in front of the White House later that morning.

the notice of proposed requirements and selection criteria for charter school program grants were released in March. Final rules are expected in the coming months.

Biden administration proposes tougher rules for charter school grants

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated enterprises. They are intended to serve as laboratories for innovation and provide alternatives for families dissatisfied with their local public schools. They were once seen as a popular middle ground in the school choice debate between those who want to exclusively fund traditional public schools and those who want a more comprehensive set of options, including school vouchers. private.

Some Democrats have soured on charters, though President Biden has been more ambivalent. As a candidate, he pledged to eliminate federal funding to support for-profit charter schools, but said it supports high-quality nonprofit charters.

Last year, it applied for and received $440 million for the charter school program, keeping the funding level for this year. Grants typically amount to about $500,000 per new school and have benefited about half of existing charter schools.

But the Ministry of Education has also issued stricter rules for qualifying for these grants.

For example, the proposal requires applicants to submit a community impact analysis demonstrating that there is “sufficient demand” for the new school and that the project would meet the needs of students and families in the community. To show “unmet demand,” applicants are asked to cite data on existing over-enrolled public schools.

Some charter school advocates worry that the federal government will deny charter funding in places where traditional schools have vacant seats, which is often the case given declining enrollment across the country.

On Twitter, the agency said the proposed charters could also show demand by showing that there are waiting lists for existing charter schools or “a desire for different approaches than those offered by traditional public schools. “.

He also said that while the agency encourages charter schools to partner with traditional public schools, it’s not a requirement.

And he made it clear that the requirement that applicants detail how they would create racially and socioeconomically diverse student and staff populations does not mean that diversity itself is a requirement. If the community isn’t racially diverse to begin with, he said, homogeneous charters would still qualify.

“This proposal is intended solely to prevent further segregation of schools,” the agency said.

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Charter Schools, said she remains concerned that the language included in the proposal may be open to interpretation by grant reviewers and said that all new charter schools should be eligible for funding. Still, she says, “We’re grateful that they’re finally noticing that there are a lot of worried people.”

The biggest proposed change would affect for-profit management companies that often run charter schools. To qualify for grants, charter schools must, by law, be operated by nonprofit groups. Many, however, contract out operation to for-profit companies, and these arrangements have been eligible for federal start-up money.

Under the proposal, nonprofits could outsource particular tasks — payroll, for example — to for-profit companies. But these companies could not handle the entire operation under contracts known as “sweeps” and still be eligible for start-up grants.

About 10% of the approximately 7,500 charter schools are fully run by for-profit companies, according to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. It was not clear how many of them use these “sweep” contracts.

Martha K. Merrill