Feds open pocketbook for charters

Feds open pocketbook for charters

(District of Columbia) Indiana officials want to expand an already robust ‘school choice’ program. In Texas, the plan is to replicate existing high-performing charter schools, and in New Mexico, charter operators and school districts will complete for grant funding in an effort to build 22 new charter schools over the next five years.

Nine states won a share of $144 million in federal funding aimed at supporting charter schools, the U.S. Department of Education announced late last week.

Another $52 million is going to 17 nonprofits looking to expand charter operations while another $56 million is earmarked to help charters build borrowing capacity for building and capital projects.

“These grants will help supplement state-based efforts to give students access to more options for their education,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a statement.

“What started as a handful of schools in Minnesota has blossomed into nearly 7,000 charter schools across the country,” she said. “Charter schools are now part of the fabric of American education, and I look forward to seeing how we can continue to work with states to help ensure more students can learn in an environment that works for them.”

Although both President Donald Trump and DeVos are well-known supporters of charters and school choice, the 2017 federal funding allotment for charters is only slightly more than Congress had approved in previous years. An agreement reached earlier this summer between Trump and Congressional Democrats set a status quo budget for now but sets up the potential for a spending fight in 2018, just as lawmakers are engaged in the midterm elections.

The Every Student Succeeds Act established a new set of eligibility requirements, priorities and selection criteria for the use of the federal charter money. The overall import of the revisions, however, is to give charters options and flexibility in the use of the funds.

Among states, the biggest winners were Texas and Wisconsin, which both will receive $38 million next year, although over the five-year cycle of the program, Wisconsin could yield close to $96 million.

Indiana, which will receive $9.3 million next year and potentially $60 million over the life of the program, stated in their grant application that families statewide have had the ability to make school choice since 2001.

“We are home to a flourishing charter school sector that embraced innovation and quality, leaving us with charter schools with wait lists,” state officials said.

Texas officials said that there is an existing network of 115 charter schools considered to be high performing supported by a federal grant made in 2016. The hope is to use the new federal money to expand and replicate the successful charter schools with 30 additional campuses.

New Mexico officials said they would use an expected $22 million in federal grants over the next five years to establish 22 new charters and expand the capacity of eight existing campuses.

The $56 million set aside for charter credit enhancements is conditioned to specific uses:

  1. The acquisition (by purchase, lease, donation, or otherwise) of an interest (including an interest held by a third party for the benefit of a charter school) in improved or unimproved real property that is necessary to commence or continue the operation of a charter school.
  2. The construction of new facilities, or the renovation, repair, or alteration of existing facilities, necessary to commence or continue the operation of a charter school.
  3. The predevelopment costs required to assess sites and to commence or continue the operation of a charter school.

The credit enhancement grants were awarded to eight charter operators, six of which received $8 million including two in California.