After the program redesign, Ed Dept. opens a month-long dash for charter funds – The 74
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States and charter operators have just a month to rush to secure grants under a vastly revamped federal program in which, for the first time, they will have to justify the need for new charter schools.
The U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday released two grant notices under the charter school program — one for states and another for those developing charter schools. The announcements reflect new rules intended to create more racially diverse schools and increase transparency when for-profit companies are involved in their management. The deadline is August 5, giving states significantly less than the four months they’ve had to apply in previous years.
The regulations represent a compromise between the Biden administration, which wanted to limit competition between a growing charter sector and traditional schools, and advocates who have argued that these schools play an important role in meeting the needs of students after the pandemic.
Karega Rausch, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, called the new rules “workable” but said he remained concerned about the requirement that new charters be racially and socio -economically diverse – or explain why they are not. The rule states that operators must note how their charter school “will not hinder, delay or adversely affect desegregation efforts in the local community.”
The provision “places unnecessary and unwarranted additional burdens on schools proposing to serve large proportions of low-income students and students of color,” Rausch said. “And there is no clarity about what constitutes a valid desegregation effort and how candidates will know if an effort exists.”
In March, the department released draft rules for the $440 million program, which provides start-up and expansion funding for charters. This sparked an immediate backlash from the charter school community, with proponents saying it would crush growth, especially among smaller independent operators not affiliated with charter management organizations. Three Senate Democrats and a bipartisan group of mayors later joined in opposition to the new rule, and charter supporters demonstrated outside the U.S. Department of Education and the White House on May 11, telling the Biden administration to ‘back down’. Ministry officials say the rule is intended to increase accountability, prevent charters from closing due to insufficient demand and promote integrated schools.
“We are at our strongest as a nation when we embrace the rich diversity of our country,” Anna Hinton, program director at the department, wrote in a Friday blog post about the final version. “Federal resources should not be used to increase racial or socioeconomic segregation and isolation.”
The work of the Century Foundation contributed to the overhaul of the department. In 2019, the progressive think tank recommended ways the program could increase diversity. While many urban charter schools primarily serve black or Hispanic students, others in suburban communities primarily attract white students, the data shows.
Stefan Lallinger, the organization’s senior researcher, said not all charters “take proactive steps” to attract a diverse student body.
“In some cases, particularly in what are called ‘white flight academies’, some charter schools actually exacerbate segregation in a given area,” he said, adding that if the new rules “Hyper-segregated” schools won’t stand in the way, they “represent real progress and signal a growing recognition among education leaders that they should be part of the solution.
In his blog post, Hinton said the department recognizes that some charters exist in racially isolated communities and that these schools will not be “disadvantaged in competing for funding.”
Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, which criticizes charter schools, was the most outspoken in support of the changes to the curriculum.
“Unscrupulous people who have used the program for their enrichment will have a harder time doing so,” she wrote in the Washington Post on Monday, pointing to requirements that charters disclose any contracts with for-profit entities. and hold public hearings on proposed schools or extensions.
But in a win for the charter sector, officials won’t force charters to work with district schools in order to receive funding — a requirement included in the original draft — but they still want to encourage partnerships. And they clarified that applicants can demonstrate demand for their programs in several ways, including waiting lists.
“The fact that they took some of our feedback seriously indicates the power of advocacy,” said Nina Rees, CEO of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. But she added that if the additional documentation required and the small window to apply “dims the interest” in seeking funds, it would be “a victory for our opponents”.
Yomika Bennett, executive director of the New York Charter Schools Association, was among those who gathered in Washington in May.
“As far as I am concerned, we are not fully heard until the broken education system is fixed,” she said. “School systems in cities across [New York state] and across the country are allowed to uneducate students year after year, generation after generation. Officials, union bosses and critics are attacking charters, school choice and fighting to keep students trapped in failing district schools.