Charter Schools Eye coronavirus relief aimed at small businesses
Some charter schools may be eligible for federal coronavirus relief program programs that aim to help small businesses affected by the pandemic, advocacy groups have said.
But as the organizations that run the charter schools consider seeking the help, they have faced criticism from charter critics who believe these funds should be directed to businesses – like restaurants and supermarkets. retail stores – which have had to close and lose revenue as the nation tries to slow the spread of the virus.
It is not known how many charter schools, if any, have applied for the recently launched programs, which are not options for traditional public school districts.
The discussion comes as education groups representing all sectors suggest Congress should do more to help schools meet the needs of students during unprecedented closures due to the pandemic and to help offset sharp declines expected of state revenues.
Groups like the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and state-level associations have urged charter schools, which are independently managed and publicly funded, to consider applying for the $ 349 billion paycheck protection program, a short-term loan program designed to help businesses cover their salary costs. If recipients use the money for qualifying purposes and avoid layoffs, these loans will later be canceled, essentially converting them into grants.
Charter schools may also be eligible for economic disaster loans created through the $ 2 trillion CARES Act, the organization said in guidelines on its website.
“The last recession hit charter schools quite significantly,” said Nina Rees, the group’s chief executive, who hosted a webinar explaining the provisions of the stimulus bill to its members.
And, while charter schools have provided public revenue this year, they also rely on private donations to support their operations, Rees said. It’s unclear how the emerging economic crisis will affect this fundraising, and how philanthropists will change their giving strategies to help families and organizations that have been hit hard by job loss and uncertainty.
“We have been very clear in our communications with anyone interested in this to make it clear why they need this funding and what this funding would cover,” Rees said. “Each application will be carefully considered and it is up to our sector and our schools to ask why they need this funding.”
In addition to small for-profit businesses, the two programs in question are available to nonprofits classified in the 501 (c) 3 category with the Internal Revenue Service and with fewer than 500 employees. According to state laws, many small charter school organizations would meet these criteria. Larger, for-profit charter networks would not.
The process of applying for loans and interpreting bylaws could be difficult for some charter schools without a large administrative staff, said Rees, who does not know how many schools have applied for or expressed interest.
The possibility has already sparked discussions in some cities. In the District of Columbia, for example, charter schools say they’ve racked up unexpected spending on items like Chromebooks because they’ve helped students make the jump to online learning quickly, The Washington Post reported. . Last week.
“We are faced with an ethical dilemma,” David Grosso, DC board member and chairman of the education committee, told The Post. “The challenge is to dig deep into yourself and see where you see yourself in the pecking order of needs of our community. ”
A spokeswoman for the Small Business Administration said in an email that charter schools that meet the program criteria are eligible, but she did not respond to other questions about the programs.
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Concerns about the eligibility of organizations are not limited to the education sector. Organizations that advocate separation of church and state have sounded the alarm that churches and religious organizations can claim help, NPR reports.
The possibility of charter schools benefiting from the programs has troubled the Network for Public Education, an organization that frequently criticizes charter schools and called on Congress to end a designated federal fund that supports their creation.
“It just raised ethical concerns for us because we know that both [district-run] public schools and charter schools have had no drop in the flow of funding, ”said Executive Director Carol Burris. “So either they are paid by the state on the basis of attendance and the children always go to school virtually, or they receive tuition fees in the school district.”
Burris says the funds should be reserved for small businesses that have faced more immediate revenue drops due to the loss of customers.
“They are so hard hit,” she said. “It just raises concerns that a sector that is still fully funded trying to leverage and get additional funding.”
While public funding for schools can be set for the current school year, charter schools and school districts face an uncertain future as states forecast declining revenues. and the accompanying budget cuts.
New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, expects to lose $ 15 billion in public funding, or more than 8% of its revenue, executives predicted last week.
Anticipating these concerns, the CARES law also provides for funding for education.: $ 13.5 billion earmarked for K-12 schools through the Law’s Education Stabilization Fund, and $ 3 billion that governors can use at their discretion to help K-12 education and superior to dealing with the fallout of the virus.
As states insist that the US Department of Education For quick advice on how to direct this funding, some charter schools are unsure how they will benefit from it, Rees said. Small schools also face challenges recruiting students for stay-at-home orders statewide, which could challenge their operations in the coming school year, she said. .
Even when President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act, educational groups called for more help for schools. A list of organizations, including the two national teachers’ unions, sent a letter to Congress on Tuesday asking for additional $ 200 billion in aid to cover costs such as special education services and distance learning.