Ray Carter | July 20, 2022

Biden administration backs off attack on charter schools

Ray Carter

The Biden administration has backed off what critics decried as an attack on charter schools by revising proposed regulations to remove language that experts said would reduce students’ educational opportunity.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor, who led a coalition that included 15 other state attorneys general opposed to the proposed regulations, welcomed news that the Biden administration had backed down.

“I am glad that the Biden Administration accepted my request to abandon its flawed plans for charter school funding,” O’Connor said. “All students deserve access to a high-quality education and underperforming public schools should not be able to veto their own competition.”

The federal Charter School Program, which was last significantly expanded in 2015, provides funding to help create new public charter schools and replicate existing high-quality public charter schools. The money can be used for facilities and initial implementation costs, among other things.

But proposed regulations unveiled by the Biden administration this year would have altered the program in ways that critics said would make it less likely new charter schools are created.

In an April 18 letter, O’Connor and other state attorneys general requested that the proposed regulations be significantly altered.

The proposed Biden administration regulations would have required applicant charter schools to demonstrate demand through over-enrollment in traditional public schools in the area. The attorneys general noted that “fails to consider evidence of demand for high quality education,” noting that charter-school demand is often generated by the poor quality of a local school.

“Underperforming public schools should not be able to veto their own competition.” —Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor

The Biden administration regulations would have also required applicant charter schools to collaborate with a local traditional public school.

O’Connor’s letter noted that “unfairly penalizes charter schools that intend to compete with the local school district” since charter schools are often created to “challenge the failures of local school districts.”

“Giving a 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 attorneys general letter stated. “The necessary result would be decreasing the education opportunities for students in areas with underperforming schools.”

O’Connor was joined by the attorneys general of Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.

The concerns raised by O’Connor and other state attorneys general were echoed by many experts.

In a column in The Hill, Caleb Kruckenberg, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, similarly warned that the Biden administration’s proposed regulations were “nothing more than an open attack on the grant program” and “tailor-made to ensure that the most successful charter schools won’t be replicated or expanded.”

Like O’Connor and the other attorneys general, Kruckenberg noted that charter schools often thrive in areas where enrollment is declining at a local traditional public school—because the local school is of low quality. Kruckenberg wrote that the proposed regulations would “make sure that failing public schools remain the only option if there’s space in a failing public school.”

And Kruckenberg said that requiring charter schools to partner with local traditional schools would effectively give failing public schools a “veto” over the creation of competition.

After public pushback, the U.S. Department of Education dropped the provisions criticized by O’Connor.

Oklahoma’s attorney general was not the only official to welcome that news.

In a statement, Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, noted the initial draft of the Biden administration regulations had sparked “major bipartisan backlash and outrage from parents and grassroots advocates.”

Moving forward, she encouraged the administration to engage with education advocates to avoid such controversies.

“We look forward to a more collaborative rulemaking process with the Department in the future,” Rees said. “I remain hopeful that together we can reach our shared goal of ensuring every child in America has access to a great public school.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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