Charter school advocates are concerned that new public charter school regulations from the Biden administration will harm students and families.
On July 1, the U.S. Department of Education announced the new rules for the federal Charter Schools Program. The program, at a cost of $440 million for the 2020 fiscal year, provides federal funding to replicate new charter schools in states across the nation.
One of the Biden administration’s primary goals in the new rules was to make it harder for for-profit entities to create charter schools. Congressional Democrats even attempted to ban charter schools created by for-profits in a budget bill in 2021. But the final version eased some of those restrictions and put the emphasis on transparency surrounding governing boards.
“However, we remain concerned about the vagueness of the language, which could open the door [for] unintended consequences,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in a statement.
“In all, the final rules will be workable in most cases,” Rees added. “However, it seems rather an elaborate exercise that still fails to address the issues identified by the Department as the impetus for the changes. There is little to no emphasis on academic achievement for the communities that need it most.”
The administration initially proposed a range of new regulations that charter supporters viewed as onerous. In addition to tighter controls around for-profit entities, one of those was to require states to prioritize grants to charter applicants who were able to partner with a traditional public school district.
Another change would have created a federal definition of “community impact” for charters that Rees says would “protect the financial interests of school districts, at the expense of students and families.” But the final rule changes the terminology to “community need,” meaning charter can use metrics like waitlists and parent demand to justify their creation.
“I believe that the Biden administration is acting in bad faith,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “Claims that these rules will benefit the charter school community do not square with President Biden’s unwavering allegiance to teachers unions that seek to use rules and regulations to subvert the expansion of parental school choice.
“It is impossible to predict how the rules will affect North Carolina’s charter schools,” Stoops added. “As a member of the North Carolina Charter Schools Advisory Board, I will be watching the implementation of these rules closely and critically.”
The new regulations come as demand for charter schools is at an all-time high in North Carolina. While traditional public schools experienced a 5% drop in enrollment during the pandemic, charter school enrollments leaped by 7.7%. Private schools saw a more modest increase of 3.3% in enrollments, while the rate of homeschooling jumped far ahead of the pack at an unprecedented 20.6%.
According to the national school-choice advocacy organization ExcelinEd, 68.7% of charter school students are minorities and an estimated 1.2 million of the 3.3 million charter students are at or below the federal poverty level. Another 300,000 students have special needs or a disability.