Chris Lange, FISM News
The Biden administration recently proposed new grant-making rules that could have a devastating impact on the nation’s charter schools.
The directive will impact the way federal start-up grants are handed out and place new requirements on charter school proposals. Charter school advocates say the move is tantamount to a declaration of war on privately-run schools, while detractors, including the Department of Education, are hailing what they view as a necessary crackdown on for-profit management models.
Former President Bill Clinton launched The Charter Schools Program (CSP) which allowed grant monies to be designated to publicly-funded, privately-operated schools. Around 60% of charter schools that opened between 2006 and 2017 did so with the help of CSP grants, according to a 2019 report published by the Department of Education.
Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said the new rules “could really grind the charter school movement to a halt,” according to a recent “World” report. Petrilli said the most troubling aspect of the regulations is a new requirement that charter schools proponents submit a “community impact analysis” proving that the school will “not exceed the number of public schools needed to accommodate the demand in the community,” among other things. What this essentially means is that, in areas where the public schools have openings for local students, charter schools will be prohibited from receiving federal grants.
“They basically say, you cannot start a new charter school in a place that has flat or declining enrollment, and in the wake of the pandemic, that’s almost everybody, everywhere,” Petrilli said.
Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools called the proposed rules “a back-door attempt to prevent new charter schools from opening,” according to the report.
Six Republican U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona on April 6 calling on the administration to withdraw the proposed regulations, which they referred to as “a blatant reversal of three decades’ worth of bipartisan support for charter schools.”
A day later, Cardona dismissed their concerns and those of other charter school proponents in an interview with The Washington Post, citing “misinformation” as the basis for the criticism.
“There should be no concerns about it because they’re–the information that we’re asking for is nothing out of the ordinary,” he said.
Limiting charter school availability is a disservice to minority communities, according to Caleb Kruckenberg, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation. In an op-ed published by The Hill, Kruckenberg illustrated his point by citing research, including a study by Stanford University, showing that privately-run schools regularly outperformed public schools in urban areas in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Washington, D.C.
“Children in poor urban communities, who are overwhelmingly students of color, don’t have the same opportunities as students from the suburbs. Their public schools often fail them at the most basic levels,” Kruckenberg said. “Public charter schools can offer those students a chance at receiving the quality education they deserve, he added.”
Petrilli anticipates that the Biden administration’s proposed regulations will make it virtually impossible for smaller charter school proponents to open new schools.
“The beauty of charter schools is that it says, ‘Hey, if you’re a teacher, or you’re a parent or a community member, you’ve got a dream for your dream school, give it a shot,’” he said. “But this really would make it so hard for any of those kinds of organizations to get these grants.”
The new regulations could backfire on Democrats already facing an uphill battle in the November midterms. Parents’ rights advocates pushed longshot Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin to victory in the blue state last November. The GOP has already signaled that parents’ rights in education will be a key focus of the party leading up to the midterms.