April 10, 2022

Carol Burris: What Biden’s proposed reforms to U.S. charter school program really say

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The charter industry has been pushing back hard against proposed tightening of regulations for the Charter School Program. In this gu4est appearance at Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post column, The Answer Sheet, NPE chief Carol Burris explains what is really going on.

Let’s begin with an explanation of the CSP. The program began in 1995. It is a competitive program that, among other things, gives awards to states, charter chains (known as CMOs), and sometimes directly to charter school developers to open or expand a charter school. The CSP program does not determine which charter schools can open and which cannot. The majority of charter schools that have opened over the past few decades never received a penny from the CSP. The average grant to a school is $499,818, although charter chains have received hundreds of millions of dollars.

Congress mandates that the Education Department give away a large proportion of the money appropriated to the program each year. The rush to spend the money helps explain why low-rated schools can get grants and unqualified or deceitful applicants whose schools never open can dip into those federal funds for planning. The mandate to spend the money is a problem only Congress can fix. Nevertheless, the proposed regulations would put in some solid rules of the road to better protect the tax dollars that are spent. What follows is an explanation of what the proposed regulations say and do not say.

*The proposed regulations say charter schools that for-profit operators fully or substantially control would not be eligible to get grants. They do not say that charter schools cannot use for-profit vendors.”

Some argue that public schools do business with private vendors for books or transportation and that is true. However, the relationship between a for-profit management organization (EMO) is quite different from the relationship between a vendor who works with a district or a charter school to provide a discreet service. A school or district can sever a bus contract and still have a building, desks, curriculum, and teachers. This is not the case when a sweeps contract is in place. In cases where charter schools have attempted to fire the for-profit operator, they find it impossible to do without destroying the schools in the process. And public schools are subject to bidding laws to ensure that nepotism does not drive vendor choice. Charter schools are not.

Read the full column here.

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