The Senate is expected to vote this week on a resolution to “nullify the Biden administration’s new rules adding burdensome requirements” on charter schools in applying for federal grants.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and 21 co-sponsors introduced Joint Resolution 60 in September.
The problem is that the Department of Education’s new requirements for Charter Schools Program grants, as Pacific Legal Foundation puts it, “contradict Congress’ directive to create more high-quality charter schools.”
One new requirement is to prove a community need for the new school, which includes collaborating with the school’s competitors or showing that the competing schools are overenrolled.
That’s like much-maligned “certificate of need” requirements that let existing providers veto new ones on the ground that no new providers are needed.
The new requirements for the grants also demand that charter schools “not exceed the racial balance of their community,” which means that applying schools will be punished if they seek to exist in a primarily minority neighborhood that mainly serves minority students. When Arizona applies for funding in coming years, for example, it will be harder to win grants for schools that serve many local populations.
As a result, the new rules discourage innovators from even trying to open new schools with federal funds, discriminate against excellent applicants, and do the opposite of what the program is intended for.
The House version of the joint resolution, HJ Res. 94, was introduced by Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich., with nine other sponsors, including Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee.
In August, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit against the changes. Then, on Nov. 4, the foundation filed an amended complaint, and plaintiffs with charter schools in four states (Michigan, Ohio, Delaware, and West Virginia) are now involved.
I am chairman of West Virginia’s charter school authorizing board.
“Without access to CSP funds,” we argue in the complaint, “public charter schools in West Virginia have a real risk that they will not be able to operate or open as planned.”
It can be quite challenging for a charter school to open without startup funding. In West Virginia, for example, no startup funds are provided for new charter schools. When a school has no regional or national education service provider to front hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not a million dollars or more), it must rely on donations, loans, or federal funding.
Furthermore, since charter schools are public schools, they can’t charge tuition, and in West Virginia they must take all students for whom there are spots. They can’t pick and choose. Charter schools must accept, without discrimination, all students who have disabilities that might take significantly more money to address adequately.
And in year zero and year one of a charter school, a lot of startup costs occur. These include buying or renting space, paying teachers and administrators even before the first day of instruction, and buses or vans when the school provides transportation. None of that is directly covered in West Virginia.
Besides, the founders and board members of the school are volunteers despite the hundreds or thousands of hours this requires.
Since the Education Department, on top of all this, has made federal grants so much more difficult to get, one can’t avoid the conclusion that the agency has it in for school choice and education freedom. That’s no surprise; it’s just more evidence.
Charter schools nationwide have an excellent record of success. A new national study shows that students improve more rapidly at charter schools than in traditional district schools. From 2005 to 2017, charter school students who were African American or of low socioeconomic status had the largest gains.
Although the Biden administration may not like them, charter schools are welcomed in blue states and cities because they serve students, including minority students, so well.
Indeed, it is far preferable that states adequately fund their charter schools so that federal funding could be done away with entirely. But the federal grants exist, and if Washington is going to continue to run them, they should operate as Congress intended.
It was a mistake for the Education Department to throw another bone to teacher unions at the expense of students. Let’s see what the Senate thinks this week.
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