WSJ – July 24, 2021

Congress Beats Up Charter Schools

A House spending bill cuts funding and adds new political strings.

By The Editorial Board | 498 words

Democrats in Washington say they want to reduce inequality. So why are they running a guerrilla campaign against charter schools that help so many children escape educational inequality?

That’s the untold story at the House Appropriations Committee, where Democrats recently voted to cut $40 million from the federal Charter Schools Program. The cuts came despite an overall 40% increase in federal education funding to $102.8 billion. President Biden’s budget proposed to hold spending for the Charter Schools Program flat at $440 million, but the committee cut that figure by nearly 10%.

Worse is the new language under the bill’s Section 314: “None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act may be awarded to a charter school that contracts with a for-profit entity to operate, oversee or manage the activities of the school.” Charter schools say this could make schools that rely on private vendors for, say, food services or curricula ineligible for any federal funding at all.

Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro dismissed this criticism on CNN as “a misinformation campaign.” But the language as written is vague and sloppy, which may be intentional. Charter proponents are right to say they shouldn’t have to rely on the Education Department bureaucracy for a generous interpretation of a mischievous provision.

The larger point is that charters are public schools and should be treated the same—including in funding—as traditional public schools. If Congress doesn’t like private contractors, it should forbid them for traditional public schools as well. Surely the real test of a charter—the test of any school—ought to be whether the students are learning, not whether there might somewhere be a profit.

Don’t expect the White House to ride to the rescue. Mr. Biden is the most anti-charter President since the charter movement began in the 1970s. Candidate Biden stressed his opposition to “for-profit” charters because he said they take money from the traditional public schools.

But most charters receive less public money per student than traditional schools while their students do better on tests and college admission. Last year a Harvard study on changes in student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress from 2005 through 2017 reported that black eighth graders at charter schools were six months ahead of their district public school peers.

One revelation from America’s year-and-a-half experience with Covid-19 is that parents need more education alternatives. Many public school parents found their children’s education crippled by teachers unions that seemed to want to do anything but teach—even as Catholic and charter schools returned to the classroom or offered hybrid instruction.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is now analyzing enrollment data across the country and says that so far every state they have data for has shown student enrollment at traditional public schools declining even as enrollment at charters increases.

The Democratic funding raid on charters is an act of sabotage that will deny many children, especially poor and minority children, the quality education they deserve.

The Wall Street Journal