Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Notice of Proposed Priorities, Requirements, Definitions, and Selection Criteria for three components of the Charter Schools Program that provide grants to open new charter schools or grow and expand existing schools.
When applying for the grants, applicants already must meet a number of priorities, assurances, and criteria. Under the proposal released this month, the Department of Education offers additional rules that would apply to these grant programs. The rules would create many bureaucratic hurdles that it will make it so difficult to access funds this year that most potential grantees may choose not to even apply.
There seems to be some consensus around the idea that these rules are... a bad idea. The Washington Post Editorial Board referred to the proposed rules as "a sneak attack on charter schools." Former charter school leader and current CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development Sharif El-Mekki says the rules prove that the Biden administration is, "willing to put the special interests of the powerful few ahead of the basic rights of the powerless many." And, co-founder and president of the National Parents Union Keri Rodrigues describes them as "part of a political game in which special interest groups have decided to attack a particular school governance model rather than addressing the real elephant in the room."
Those are some pretty harsh words. So, why exactly are the proposed rules so harmful? Here's what I think:
Charter schools will have to describe “unmet demand for the charter school” by showing “over enrollment of existing public schools.”
I’ve never heard a parent say they chose to send their child to a charter school because the school district doesn’t have room. They choose charter schools for the curriculum, the culture, the academics, or a combination of those, among many other reasons. Families should have a right to choose a high-quality public school that best fits their child’s needs, not the school district’s. Haven’t we moved past the thinking that one-size-fits-all when it comes to education?
Charter schools would be required to demonstrate that they plan to “establish and maintain racially and socio-economically diverse student and staff populations.”
Alarms should be going off on this one. This rule automatically assumes that culturally affirming schools are bad. That schools in rural areas shouldn’t exist. That schools on Native American reservations shouldn’t exist. That schools serving primarily Black or Hispanic students in urban areas shouldn’t exist. It’s offensive. It’s a restriction that wouldn’t EVER apply to a district public school, so how is it appropriate for charter schools?
The charter school community and the families who choose them are treated like an afterthought.
The Administration didn’t consult anyone from the charter school community before making the proposed rules public—not school leaders, not teachers, and certainly not families. And not only are they ignoring the fact that more parents are choosing charter schools than ever before, but they cut the comment period down almost by half, making it that much more difficult for parents and other stakeholders to provide input before the rules.
If you’re like me, this sounds concerning. It sounds like a backdoor attempt to discourage anyone from applying for these grants. Which is why we are asking the Department to hold off on implementing these rules for the upcoming grant cycle and instead focus on implementing current program requirements and ensuring that grantees are well-supported.
Kim McCabe is the senior director of communications at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.