The $2.2 trillion Corona Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities (CARES) Act appropriated $30.75 billion for education—almost half of which will flow to “Local Education Agencies.” These LEAs include both school districts and many charter schools or networks. But charter laws differ from state to state, and many charter schools authorized by school districts do not have legal status as LEAs.
Will these charters—more than a quarter of all charter schools, according to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) —get a piece of the federal relief money? Or will some districts, which may feel hostile toward charters, keep the money for their own schools? And will governors hand out their share fairly?
Governors will distribute $3 billion to K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, as they see fit. State education departments will distribute $13.5 billion to LEAs, based on the relative share of federal Title 1 funding (for low-income children) they received last year. So LEAs with higher percentages of poor children will get more money.
School districts and charters that are LEAs can use the money for a variety of purposes, including buying devices for schools and children so they can continue their learning online and making up for lost time with summer school.
The U.S. Department of Education should immediately issue guidance to governors, state education departments, and school districts requiring that CARES Act funding flow to all charter schools at the same rate and using the same formula as the traditional public schools within a district. (Online charter schools could be exempted, since they have suffered far less disruption than brick-and-mortar schools.)
The CARES Act funds will be distributed to states within 30 days of enactment, based on applications to the U.S. Department of Education. The department has 30 days from the date of receiving a state’s application to respond. If approved, states will be responsible for disbursing the funds within a year of receipt.
Amy Wilkins, senior vice president for advocacy with NAPCS, is optimistic about how CARES Act funding will be disbursed. When asked about whether NAPCS believed charter school families could be punished for the choice they made, Wilkins said, “In this time in which we are all acting together against common challenges and threats, we are confident that school districts will rise to the occasion to ensure that all students benefit from the education funds contained in the CARES Act. It’s almost beyond thinking that anyone would try to undercut charter school students in this moment.”
As the Department of Education finalizes the application states will use, it must include guidance to ensure that charter school students and their families are not penalized for exercising choice in public education.