Biden’s new charter school rules are a mistake

Unfortunately, President Joe Biden’s administration seems determined to ignore that warning sign — and pander to teachers’ unions and school district administrators instead.

Despite educating 7% of all public school students, charter schools account for less than 1% of total federal spending on K-12 education. In its recently passed spending bill, Congress appropriated $440 million for the federal charter school program — the same level as in the past four years, during which charter school enrollment has grown. increased by 13%.

The Biden administration may well worsen this disparity. The Department of Education recently proposed rules that would require charter school operators to complete a “community impact analysis” before qualifying for federal funds. Charters would only be eligible if they could prove they operate in communities where there is “unmet demand,” meaning existing public schools are over-enrolled and cannot accommodate all students in the community. .

In other words, charter school operators would be barred from receiving federal support if they opened in areas experiencing declining public school enrollment — the very communities where, after two years of disrupted learning, dissatisfaction with public schools is boiling over. Indeed, the Biden plan would discourage the opening of charters in low-income neighborhoods where students most need better options. This could result in tens of millions of unspent Congressional-mandated dollars.

This is a manifestly flawed policy. But it happens to reflect the views of powerful teachers’ unions, which falsely claim that charters drain money from underfunded (and unionized) public schools. In fact, evidence suggests that charters help improve existing public schools. The presence of quality competition both improves educational outcomes in neighboring schools and leads to an increase in overall public spending per student. Contrary to the claims of their opponents, moreover, charter schools overwhelmingly benefit black, Latino, and low-income students.

At a minimum, the administration should remove the requirement that charter schools demonstrate “unmet demand” based on enrollment in traditional schools to receive federal funds. If the government wants to determine if there is sufficient demand for new charter schools in a given community, it should instead look at waiting lists for existing charters and the availability of places in high-quality neighborhood schools. – not those that are underperforming. In allocating federal funds to charters, priority should be given to proven charter school networks in underserved areas and to improving outcomes for poor and minority students.

Charter schools can’t solve all the problems facing America’s public education system, but they are a lifeline for millions of students trapped in failing schools or at risk of dropping out – kids who could do face a life of lower wages, higher unemployment, a reduced life expectancy and a greater likelihood of ending up in prison. Biden should show he is on their side.

More other writers at Bloomberg Opinion:

Colleges should be grateful for ‘Zoom School’ lawsuits: Stephen L. Carter

Can educational migration save the world? : Tyler Cowen

Why do “untrustworthy” students choose finance? : Tyler Cowen

The editors are members of the Bloomberg Opinion Editorial Board.

Martha K. Merrill