School Choice & Charters

Proposed K-12 Cuts Could Hit Charter, Private Schools

By Alyson Klein — April 05, 2017 3 min read
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Private and charter schools were considered the big winners in President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget blueprint, which seeks new money to expand student options, while slashing other K-12 spending. The problem for some schools of choice? Private and charter schools would be squeezed by the proposed cuts, just like regular public schools.

The Trump administration’s budget blueprint would include $1.4 billion in new money for school choice, including additional funds for charters, but it would get rid of Title II, the $2.3 billion main federal program for improving teacher quality, and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, a $1.1 billion program that helps finance after-school and extended-day programs.

Private and charter schools and students receive funding, or at least services, from both programs, explained Sheara Krvaric, a lawyer with the Federal Education Group, a law firm that specializes in K-12 programs.

Some states treat charter schools or networks of charters as separate districts. That means, if they qualify for federal grants, such as Title I for disadvantaged students, Title II, career and technical education money, or others, they get it, under the same set of rules as those for traditional public schools.

The share of Title II dollars going to charters isn’t trivial. In California, for example, it’s about 10 percent of funding, or an estimated $23 million of the state’s roughly $234 million in Title II funding.

And the cuts could sting.

In the District of Columbia, for instance, Eagle Academy, a charter school, gets roughly $82,000 in Title II funding. The school serves about 900 children between two campuses, most of them in poverty, and allocates its Title II dollars to help teachers use technology in the classroom and better understand their students’ social and emotional needs.

“If this was taken away from us, that would hurt,” said Joe Smith, the school’s chief financial officer. And he doesn’t think the new funding for charters would necessarily make up for it. “I don’t know what the new money is for. But I know what Title II is for. It’s for any school that serves poor children, to help their students.”

The cuts to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program would also be tough for some charters to swallow. Thurgood Marshall Academy, another District of Columbia charter school aimed at preparing students for legal careers, receives about $285,000 from the program, or about 3 percent of its overall budget.

With that money, it offers a half-day summertime program to help students get acclimated to high school and pays teachers to stay after school. The academy also supports tutoring students and staffing the computer lab, along with helping students travel to local law firms for tutoring and mentoring.

And the school uses 21st Century funds to help pay for more than two dozen after-school clubs, from a chess club to a “green” club that gives students the chance to sell and grow fresh produce.

“It’s not peanuts. ... When I read through the budget, I was absolutely most concerned about the cut” to after-school, said Richard Pohlman, its executive director. “Those concerns were not addressed by the increase to charter schools.”

Private schools are supposed to be able to take advantage of districts’ Title II dollars, too. In Wisconsin, for example, home to a long-standing voucher program, nearly a quarter of the state’s roughly $25 million in Title II funding benefits private and religious schools, or about $5 million total, said Tony Evers, the state chief. Districts must consult with private schools about how they want the dollars used—they can’t just make the decision for them.

The cuts, particularly to Title II funding would hit private schools the same way they would hit public schools, said Joe McTighe, the executive director of the Council for American Private Education. “It would have a proportional impact on us,” McTighe said.

Department’s Focus

For her part, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a statement that the budget’s focus is on “investing in education programs that work, and maintaining our department’s focus on supporting states and school districts in providing an equal opportunity for a quality education to all students.”

And an Education Department official said the intent of the budget is to channel money to the programs that are of the highest value to students.

A version of this article appeared in the April 05, 2017 edition of Education Week as Proposed K-12 Cuts Could Also Hit Charter, Private Schools

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