May 19, 2022

Valerie Strauss: What Biden should say to charter school supporters now attacking him

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Valerie Strauss takes a look at the many charter advocates pushing back against the administration’s proposal for common sense changes to charter grant rules, and she imagines what President Biden could say in response:

Hey guys:

Look, I didn’t expect you to love the changes my administration is proposing to the Charter School Programs. You have never been good at accepting criticism — but really, isn’t your reaction a bit much?

A bunch of you said I want to “gut” the program. Gut the program? Charter critics would love that, but that’s not what I’m doing. I have proposed to Congress that we keep funding at the same amount as last year — $440 million. So much for gutting.

I’ll add that the Education Department, even under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, couldn’t spend all of the money allocated to the program by Congress in 2019. That’s when more than $12 million was reallocated from the program to other federal education priorities due to a lack of demand for new charter schools in state and individual grants. During the coronavirus pandemic, some program money was allowed to be used for other purposes.

I have said my administration supports high-quality charters because it does. Charter opponents would rather we didn’t, but we do. But there are a lot of problems in the charter sector, and we can’t find any acknowledgment of that in your scorched-earth assault on us.

I expect that from Republicans — as George Will showed in a Washington Post column — that falsely said charters must “get permission” from a traditional public school to operate if our proposed reforms become official. They don’t — but let’s not let the truth get in the way.

And I expect that from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which sent out missives to supporters to speak out against the proposed reforms and launched media ads that accuse my administration of proposing changes that will hurt students of color.

Unfortunately, Democrats for too long have been part of this let’s-never-admit-there’s-a-charter-school-problem chorus. I read the op-ed that Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat who started a charter school network in 2004, wrote in The Washington Post, which alleged that our proposed reforms would “create chaos and limit public school choice by instituting new rules that would gut” the program. As we said, we haven’t proposed cutting a dime, but, legally the money has to be paid out annually, whether there are good proposals for charters or not. We know full well that some applications that don’t adhere to all of the priorities we have set out in the proposed reforms will get federal money anyway.

Read the full column here

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