School Choice & Charters

Charter Schools

February 18, 2004 2 min read

Move-in Special

Looking for a new home for a charter school? Help from the federal government is coming.

The recently signed omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2004 includes new money for two separate grant programs totaling about $56 million to help charter schools pay for classroom space.

That money includes $18.7 million for state grants under an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act. States can apply for the aid, then give it to eligible charter schools needing cash to pay for rent, leases, or purchases of school buildings, said Jim Houser, who oversees the program for the U.S. Department of Education.

The program is in addition to the more than $200 million in existing federal charter school grants that states can tap.

Several states with existing programs that help charter schools cover facilities costs—including California, Colorado, and Florida—will benefit. And the federal program could be used as leverage to push for the creation of such charter school facilities programs in other states.

Under a separate program, $37.3 million in new funds will help public agencies, nonprofit groups, and others obtain financing for charter school facilities. The money likely will go to nonprofit development corporations that often help provide financing for charter school buildings.

The two grant programs were part of the spending bill for the Education Department and other agencies that Congress approved on Jan. 22 and President Bush signed the following day. The money is for the fiscal year that began last Oct. 1.

Jon Schroeder, the coordinator of Education Evolving, a charter school organization that’s part of the Center for Policy Studies in St. Paul, Minn., said the funding would help many charter schools that struggle to pay for classroom space. Charter schools usually don’t have the power to raise tax money or tap general school construction funds offered by states, he said.

The predicament can keep charter schools from getting off the ground or finding the best-priced classroom space. Charter schools also can’t seek affordable financing, because they often don’t have the borrowing power of districts.

Charter school operators got more good news, when President Bush unveiled his budget plan for fiscal 2005, Mr. Schroeder added. Mr. Bush, he said, is seeking an additional $100 million for the program to help with charter school financing, and would keep the funding level of facilities grants at $18.7 million in the coming year.

—Alan Richard

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