(The Center Square) — Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is joining with his counterparts in 15 states to oppose proposed new regulations from the Biden administration that would restrict federal grants for public charter schools.
“The Charter School Program is intended to provide an alternative to low-performing schools in order to improve education, not merely to supplement offerings by traditional public schools,” Landry said. “I will not sit by idly while Joe Biden threatens to deprive Louisiana families of better educational opportunities for their children.”
Congress passed the Charter Schools Program (CSP) in 2015 with broad bipartisan support to “provide financial assistance for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools” in an effort to “increase the number of high-quality charter schools available to students across the United States.”
Landry and charter school supporters contend that regulations proposed by the Department of Education in March will undermine the intent of the law. The department published the proposal in the Federal Register on March 14 and collected public comment until April 13.
“We may use one or more of these priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria for grant competitions under these programs in fiscal year 2022 and later years,” according to the summary. “We take this action to create results-driven policies to help promote positive student outcomes, student and staff diversity, educator and community empowerment, promising practices, and accountability, including fiscal transparency and responsibility, in charter schools supported with CSP funds, which can serve as models for other charter schools.”
According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are 158 charter schools serving more than 87,000 students in Louisiana as of 2020.
Critics of the changes contend they’re designed to ensure the most successful charter schools are not replicated or expanded.
The proposal would require applicants for grants to provide evidence the charter school meets “unmet demand,” demonstrated by “over-enrollment of existing public schools.” The proposed rules would also require public charter schools to collaborate with at least one traditional public school or district and “provide a letter from each partnering traditional public school or school district demonstrating a commitment to participate in the proposed charter-traditional collaboration.”
Landry signed on to a letter from attorneys general in Alaska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs Ruth Ryder on Monday outlining opposition to the proposed rules.
The AGs argued that demand for charter schools is not driven by over-enrollment in traditional public schools, but rather a desire by parents for better educational options. The preference for charter schools to gain approval from traditional public schools for which they compete for students is also unfair to charter schools and the families that rely on them, they wrote.
“Giving preference to charter schools that partner with local school districts would inappropriately penalize charter schools that compete, allowing underperforming local school districts an easy way to suppress competition,” the AGs wrote. “The necessary result would be decreasing the education opportunities for students in areas with underperforming schools.”
The AGs also expressed concerns that increasing the number of proposed priorities, requirements, and assurances required of charter schools would “create undue regulatory and administrative burden on grant applicants.”
“Charter schools are publicly funded, privately run schools which provide alternatives for families unhappy with the existing local public schools,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said. “Congress funded charter schools to encourage better education throughout the country. Enacting these proposed changes will defeat the very reason public charter schools are allowed.”
The Pacific Legal Foundation and charter school groups expressed similar concerns, citing Biden’s admission he’s “not a charter school fan” while campaigning for president in February 2020.
The Pacific Legal Foundation noted that Congress on March 10 appropriated $440 million for the federal charter school program for 2023.
“No wonder then, a day after Congress appropriated funds to the charter school program, the Department of Education released its proposed rule dramatically undermining the grant program,” foundation attorney Caleb Kruckenberg wrote in an April 11 letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona outlining numerous reasons for opposition.