Eighteen states rip Biden administration’s proposed crackdown on charter schools

Eighteen Republican governors slammed Monday the Biden administration’s effort to restrict federal grants to charter schools, accusing the administration of seeking to position itself as a “national charter school board.”

Led by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, the governors asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to remove the proposed “community impact analysis”; keep open the “unprecedentedly short” one-month comment period, and delay any changes until the next fiscal year.

“We oppose any attempts by the federal government to act as a national charter school board, impose a top-down and one-size-fits-all approach, and undermine the authority of parents to choose the educational option best for their child,” said the comment from the red-state governors.

The department did extend the deadline once already from April 13 to April 18. The proposal was posted March 14 in the Federal Register.

The rule proposed a “community impact analysis” requiring new charters to prove that the local school district is “over-enrolled” to qualify for the federal Charter School Programs, which administers about $440 million annually in grants.

Such a standard “fails to consider that a driving force in parents’ decisions is the desire for their child to attend a school that meets their child’s unique needs,” the governors said.

“It cannot be ignored that enrollment is down in many big-city school districts due to parents choosing to leave closed or persistently failing schools,” they said. “The Administration’s proposed rule means that charters bringing high quality seats to areas in need would be routinely rejected for funds, despite offering parents a chance to stay in their community without sacrificing their child’s future.”

The comment was submitted jointly by the governors of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

The department’s goals include improving quality and accountability in charter schooling, but Republicans and school-choice advocates have accused the administration of doing the bidding of teachers’ unions by seeking to sabotage such schools with a rushed process.

An Education Department spokesperson said Monday that the administration “recognizes that there is a place for high-quality public charter schools.”

“The recently released proposed priorities and application requirements are intended to improve the quality and accountability of charter schools, including by increasing community, family, and educator engagement; ensuring fiscal oversight and transparency; and encouraging collaboration between traditional public schools and charter schools,” the spokesperson said. “We welcome public comment on the proposal and look forward to finalizing the priorities and requirements after considering all of the feedback we receive.”

About 3.5 million students are enrolled in public charter schools, which boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic as parents sought alternatives to the extended remote learning pushed in some districts by teachers’ unions.

Charter schools are typically not unionized.

Their critics argue that charter schools pull dollars from traditional classrooms, while the governors said charters serve 7% of the public-school population while receiving less than 1% of the federal K-12 funding.

The governors also said the proposed rule would disproportionately affect minority students, given that “charter schools enroll more students of color and more economically disadvantaged students than their traditional public school counterparts.”

A 2019 report by the Network for Public Education, which opposes charter schools, said that “hundreds of millions” in federal grants has been wasted at schools that either never opened or shut down quickly.

Six Republican senators urged the department in an April 6 letter to extend the comment-period deadline on the “troubling” proposal, calling it “a blatant reversal of three decades’ worth of bipartisan support for charter schools.”

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