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Trump’s Education Cuts Would Squeeze Charter, Private Schools

By Alyson Klein — March 27, 2017 5 min read
President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hold cards received from the children in a 4th grade class during a tour of St. Andrew Catholic School this month, in Orlando, Fla. Trump's daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, are at rear.
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Private and charter schools were considered the big winners in President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint, which sought 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, but it would get rid of Title II, the $2.3 billion main federal program for improving teacher quality, and the 21stCentury Community Learning Center program, a $1.1 billion program which helps finance afterschool and extended-day programs. Private and charter schools receive funding, or at least services, from both programs, explained Sheara Krvaric, an attorney with the Fed Ed Group, a law firm that specializes in K-12 programs.

Here’s a breakdown of how that works:

Charter Schools

Some states treat charter schools or networks of charters as separate school districts. That means, if they qualify for federal grants, like Title I, Title II, career and technical education money, or something else, they get it, under the same set of rules as 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.

To be sure, the Trump administration has proposed an increase for the federal charter schools program, to $500 million, from $333 million. But it’s unclear what the new money would be used for. The newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act puts a special focus on using the money to replicate high-performing charters. If the new dollars are approved by Congress and directed to those efforts, existing charters might not see much of it.

But the proposed cuts, on the other hand, could sting.

For instance, Eagle Academy, a charter school in the District of Columbia, gets roughly $82,000 in Title II funding. The school serves about 900 children between two campuses, most of them in poverty, and uses 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 D.C. charter school aimed at preparing students for legal careers, receives about $285,000 from the program, or about 3 percent of its overall budget.

It uses that money to offer a half-day summer-time program to help kids get acclimated to high school, as well as paying teachers to stay after school. It also supports tutoring students and staffing the computer lab, as well as helping students travel to local law firms for tutoring and mentoring.

The school also 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.

If the money went away completely, the school could be faced with some choices, said Richard Pohlman, its executive director.

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

If the cuts go through, the school would do its best to make up for loss, but it’s hard to imagine that kids wouldn’t feel the squeeze, Pohlman said. “Students wouldn’t have as many options to keep them engaged and in a safe place, engaging in enriching activities,” he said.

Private Schools

Private schools benefit from federal dollars—particularly Title II—as well, although the process is a bit more complicated than it is for charters.

Here’s how it works: District receive money from Title II—which can be used for class-size reduction, professional development, retention bonuses and more. But private schools with high-poverty populations are supposed to be able to take advantage of the dollars too. And districts have to consult with private schools in their area about how they want the dollars used—they can’t just make the decision for them.

In fact, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed in 2015, made it easier for private schools to take advantage of federal money for teacher quality. Under the previous version of the law, No Child Left Behind Act, districts only had offer private schools a chance to benefit from Title II programs if the money was used for professional development. But now, they’ll have to allow private schools to benefit from those funds even if they’re used for other purposes.

And the amount of Title II funding going to private schools isn’t chump change, at least in places that have embraced school choice in a big way. In Wisconsin, for example, home to a long-standing voucher program, nearly 25 percent of the state’s roughly $25 million in Title II funding goes to private and parochial schools, or about $5 million total, said Tony Evers, the state chief.

The cuts, particularly to Title II funding would hit private schools the same way it 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.

To be sure, the budget also includes a $250 million boost for private school choice, and McTighe is eager to see details on that. And he doesn’t necessarily think it’s either or choice between an elimination of Title II and a new program to expand private school options.

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 budget focuses on the programs that are of the highest value to students.