Biden’s Department of Education Starts New War on Charter Schools

Every parent wants their child to have access to a good education. But it’s no secret that your zip code makes all the difference. Children in poor urban communities, who are predominantly students of color, do not have the same opportunities as students in the suburbs. Their public schools often fail at the most basic levels.

Public charter schools can offer these students a chance to receive the quality education they deserve.

Research consistently shows that urban charter schools outperform traditional public schools. For example, in a 2019 study, Stanford University found that public charter schools in Pennsylvania outperform traditional schools, especially in urban areas like Philadelphia. Additionally, charter schools have done a much better job of closing the achievement gap for minority students in urban areas than traditional public schools. Keep in mind that in Philadelphia, more than half of all public school students are black.

Other urban communities across the country feature similar stories. In Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Washington, DC, public charter schools offer a better alternative to public schools, and in each city they serve large minority populations.

Yet that hasn’t stopped the Biden administration and the Department of Education from declaring war on top-performing charter schools.

The Federal Charter Schools Program helps defray the start-up and expansion costs of public charter schools. In 2015, Congress passed a significant expansion of this program with broad bipartisan support. The purpose of the act was direct – “to provide financial assistance for the planning, curriculum design, and initial implementation of charter schools” in order to “increase the number of high-quality charter schools available to students across the United States”.

To achieve its goal, the law requires the Secretary of Education to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in grants each year. Congress must also establish clear criteria guiding awards, such as whether they seek to replicate programs with measurable academic achievement and have a plan to serve “racially and socioeconomically diverse student bodies.”

Congress has appropriated $440 million for the federal charter school program for 2023. But President Biden does not share the bipartisan consensus on charter schools. For example, during his campaign, he said he was “not a fan of charter schools.”

Now the Department of Education, which administers the program, has followed Biden’s lead and proposed a rule that is nothing more than an open attack on the subsidy program. The rule – which only allowed a 35-day comment period and could go into effect as early as May – proposed new requirements for grant applicants that are tailor-made to ensure that the most successful charter schools performance will not be replicated or extended.

First, the proposal requires applicants to provide evidence that their charter schools are meeting “unmet demand” through “overstaffing of existing public schools.” In other words, applicants must prove that too few existing schools are available to students – not that existing schools have failed their students.

The problem has never been a lack of space in existing schools. As the department’s own research indicates, charter school enrollment is up and public school enrollment has declined over the past decade. In effect, students are leaving failing public schools in favor of homeschooling, private schools, and more successful charter schools.

The new priority sees this as an issue and is designed to ensure that failing public schools remain the only option if there is room in a failing public school. It therefore targets the best performing charter schools in almost all major urban areas as they provide a better option for students.

Second, the proposal states that applicants “must offer to partner with at least one traditional public school or traditional school district,” and even “provide a letter from each traditional public school or partner school district demonstrating their commitment to charter participation.” proposed- traditional collaboration.

This will allow local districts to veto any proposal without reason. Part of the reason charter schools thrive is that they foster innovation and competition among schools. It also necessarily means that public schools that lose student enrollment to charter schools will be unlikely to voluntarily collaborate or continue charter school efforts.

If a failing public school doesn’t want to lose students and the funding that goes with it, it’s better off simply refusing to cooperate and dooming any charter school applicants. This does not serve students who will miss educational opportunities. This is yet another way to undermine the entire subsidy program.

Third, charter schools would have to show that they “would not hinder, delay, or otherwise affect desegregation efforts in public school districts” and “would not otherwise increase segregation or racial or socio-economic isolation in schools”. .”

This requirement is an offensive effort to punish charter schools for successfully serving minority students. According to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, “[I]In the vast majority of states, the racial/ethnic demographics of charter school students are almost identical to those of the surrounding school district. And some of the most successful charter schools primarily serve minority student populations, as this accurately reflects the community from which they attract students. The new requirement would take into account this unconscionable “segregation” or “isolation” of minority students.

This means applicants can either impose illegal racial selection criteria to try to balance the demographics of the communities they serve, or fail the new criteria. The Ministry’s “Catch-22” is no doubt intentional. By creating an impossible conflict over racial demographics, the department can use any convenient excuse to deny applicants grants. This means that the grants will not increase the number of high-quality charter schools, which will rob children of a better education.

As the Pacific Legal Foundation argued to the agency, new priorities are terrible policy, and they’re almost certainly illegal. The Ministry of Education cannot deliberately undermine the purpose of a law as is the case here. This is especially true when the law does not permit the agency to impose additional requirements on applicants beyond the criteria set by Congress, let alone when the resulting criteria involve unlawful racial discrimination.

During the comment period, the ministry received an unprecedented number of comments – over 15,000 – even with the abbreviated timeline. Parents, it seems, want the best for their children, even if the Biden administration does not. If the ministry persists and tries to finalize the new requirements, it will certainly face stiff opposition in court from those same parents.

Caleb Kruckenberg is a lawyer at Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit legal organization that defends individual liberty and the constitutional rights of Americans. Follow him on Twitter @Kruckenberg_Esq.

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