The leading national advocacy group for charter schools is condemning a provision included in House Democrats' education budget proposal that they argue could put some charter schools at risk of losing federal funds, a claim that is inaccurate, according to a Democratic congressional staffer.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools this week released a petition calling on members of Congress to push back against the 2022 health, labor and education spending bill, which the House Appropriations Committee approved last week in a party-line vote.
The group is specifically taking issue with a provision that states funds will not be made available to a charter school that “contracts with a for-profit entity to operate, oversee or manage the activities of the school.”
The alliance said on its website that such a move would be extremely detrimental for many charter schools, which often “contract with businesses to provide students with services and supplies that they need.”
“Charter school leaders would be forced to choose between accessing the federal funds their students are entitled to or working with businesses to provide the supplies and services their students need,” the group added, arguing that students of color and those from low-income communities will be especially harmed by cuts.
“Apparently, Congress thinks those are things that some public school students can go without,” the alliance said. “More specifically, they think charter school students—who are more likely to be Black and Brown and come from low-income communities—can go without.”
Nina Rees, the organization’s president and CEO, told CNN on Tuesday that the language could affect charter schools that contract out for cafeteria services, special education instruction and other services.
Apparently, Congress thinks public school students who attend charter schools can do without food, plumbing, and books. Tell Washington this is NOT ok – all public school students deserve equal funding. https://t.co/Lz20BSmZFN— Nina Rees (@Ninacharters) July 20, 2021
Rees, who noted that some local public school districts also hire out private companies to provide similar services, told CNN that the provision shows that lawmakers had not “fully considered the ramifications of the language they proposed.”
“It's pretty sloppy,” she added.
However, a Democratic congressional staffer pushed back on the alliance's characterization of the provision, telling The Hill that the denial of federal funds will only apply to the 10 percent of charter schools across the country that are for-profit institutions.
Democrats, including President BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE, have specifically called for an end to federal support for these for-profit charter schools, with the majority of U.S. charter schools nonprofit organizations.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroHouse passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit Hoyer tells Israel removal of Iron Dome funding is 'technical postponement' Democrats to nix B for Israel's Iron Dome from bill to avert shutdown MORE (D-Conn.) said in a statement shared with The Hill that the language of the provision "is clearly focused on ending the practice of charters accepting federal funds only to have the school run by a low-quality, for-profit company rife with conflicts of interest."
"This provision in the Labor-H bill safeguards our critical federal investments in education, including those investments that benefit public charter schools, and protects us all from the financial risks posed by for-profit charter schools," she added.
Rees also said in a statement earlier this month that the spending proposal would cut $40 million from President Biden's $440 million request for the federal Charter Schools Program, a move the group said would be "particularly egregious," given the boost in charter school enrollment last year.
"We urge the full committee to think about what a cut in funding would do to the families that need help the most," the group president wrote. "These community-based schools provide opportunities to a diverse range of students who would not otherwise have a high-quality public school available to them."
However, the congressional staffer who spoke to The Hill noted the substantial increase in funding for public education included in the bill, such as a 62 percent increase in spending for K-12 education programs.
The appropriations committee has also highlighted that the spending proposal's investments include a $19.5 billion increase in Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies, as well as a $3.1 billion surge in funding for special education.
The House proposal in its current form will likely not be the version eventually approved by Congress, with negotiations and revisions likely to take place before a final vote.
The House proposal currently provides a total of $253.8 billion in funding for labor, health and human services, and education, a 28 percent increase from 2020.
--Updated on July 21 at 4:07 p.m.