Jeff Bryant: A Tale of Two Federal Grants for Public Education
Writing for The Progressive, independent journalist Jeff Bryant looks at contrasting federal grant programs for funding either charter or community schools; the latter provides money for what schools and families really need, the former, not so much.
The first program enjoys the significant backing of industry lobbyists and wealthy foundations, and allows private education operators—some that operate for-profit—to skim public money off the top. It also adds to racial segregation in public schools, and squanders millions of dollars on education providers that come and quickly go, or simply fail to provide any education services at all.
The second program helps schools expand learning time and opportunities for students, especially in high-poverty and rural communities; promote parent engagement; encourage collaboration with local businesses and nonprofits; and become hubs for child- and family-related services that contribute to students’ health and well-being.
These strikingly different outcomes result from two different intentions: the first program’s goal to promote a type of school that is vaguely defined versus the second’s goal to expand a way of doing school that is supported by research and anecdotal evidence.
The first grant program is the Charter Schools Program (CSP), which funds privately operated charter schools and their developers and advocacy organizations. The program, started during the Clinton Administration and greatly expanded during the Obama years, gives money directly to charter schools and to state education agencies and charter school-related organizations to distribute to new, existing, or proposed charters.
In October, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the nation’s top lobbyist for the charter school industry, hailed the federal government’s release of $572 million in taxpayer dollars from the CSP, calling the money “the most essential funding to enable the existence of public charter schools.”
In New Mexico, local press outlets reported that a $52 million CSP grant went to a charter industry advocacy group called the Public Charter Schools of New Mexico, which in turn would award subgrants to individual charter schools. One reporter quoted the group’s leader who said, “There was a large application with several requirements in there. And we were scored based on, you know, how well we met the requirements and a peer review process.”