Charter Schools, Some With Billionaire Benefactors, Tap Coronavirus Relief
By Erica L. Green, writing for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Charter schools, including some with healthy cash balances and billionaire backers like Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates, have quietly accepted millions of dollars in emergency coronavirus relief from a fund created to help struggling small businesses stay afloat.
Since their inception, charter schools have straddled the line between public schools and private entities. The coronavirus has forced them to choose.
And dozens of them — potentially more because the Treasury Department has not disclosed a list — have decided for the purpose of coronavirus relief that they are businesses, applying for aid even as they continue to enjoy funding from school budgets, tax-free status and, in some cases, healthy cash balances and the support of billionaire backers.
That has let them tap the Paycheck Protection Program, which Congress intended to keep businesses and nonprofits from shedding jobs and closing their doors. Parents, activists and researchers have identified at least $50 million in forgivable loans flowing to the schools, which, like all schools, are facing steep budget cuts next year as tax revenue, tuition payments and donations dry up.
“To me, either you’re a fish or a fowl — you can’t say you’re a public school one day, but now because it’s advantageous, say you’re a business,” said Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, a group that scrutinizes charter school management, and whose early donors included a teachers’ union.