DILLINGHAM: Say “no” to gutting the charter schools program

FILE – In this April 27, 2020, file photo, a worker passes public school buses parked at a depot in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

The Biden administration is guiding the country and our public education system down a perilous path just as our schools, families, and communities are trying to rebound after a two-year pandemic.   

The U.S. Department of Education is proposing new regulations that make it harder for public charter schools to be created and sustained in communities that need them.   

These regulations won’t help us “Build Back Better” — they just build backwards.   

In March, the Biden Administration proposed new regulations for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) which provides much-needed grants to deserving, low-funded public charter schools. In fact, the Charter Schools Program is the only source of dedicated federal funding to support the growth of public charter schools.   

The Biden administration needs to know that these regulations put the brakes on progress towards quality educational options for everyone and damage our public school system which includes charters and district-run schools.   

I am a veteran educator with more than 20 years in the classroom, a charter school founder, and the executive director of the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools. We represent more than 126,000 students in the 204 public charter schools in our state — many of whom would not be in schools that serve them best without needed federal funding.   

In North Carolina, the CSP monies that the Biden administration wants to restrict fund the North Carolina Advancing Charter Collaboration and Excellence for Student Success (NC ACCESS) Program which supports students who are economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, English learners, unaccompanied youth or students experiencing homelessness, migrant students, and immigrant students. North Carolina’s public charter schools also use these funds to develop a pipeline of diverse charter school leaders who demonstrate best practices in serving educationally disadvantaged students.   

Why does the Biden administration want to starve this critical pipeline?  

One of the biggest problems with the new proposed regulations is that funding provided to charter schools based on their “community impact” will be decided by someone in Washington, D.C. who’s never been to your school and doesn’t know your community. Parents and communities know what schools work best. For my two daughters, one attended a charter school that I helped found and the other went to a district-run public school. My family had that choice and I can’t stay silent when the federal government tries to take that option away from you if that’s what’s best for your child.  

Another proposed regulation limits grant funding to public charter schools in communities where district-run schools are overcrowded. However, a set number of seats in a particular building in a district-run school is hardly the measure of success we should be striving for. The Biden Administration should focus its oversight on the quality of the education a student receives, regardless of what type of classroom they’re in.   

There are at least 76,000 students on wait lists to enroll in NC’s public charter schools which is a clear indication that there are parents who would like the opportunity to enroll their children in charter schools where slots do not currently exist. The Biden Administration’s proposed regulations would take that choice away from thousands of families who want one thing: to find the best educational option that provides the best path of success for their child to succeed.   

The regulations that the Biden administration is proposing significantly affect public charter school families because nearly half of all charter schools receive this critical CSP funding.   

These families come from all corners of the political spectrum because educating our children is an all-partisan issue, as it should be. We should be helping families receive more educational options for students, not less.  

Rhonda Dillingham is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools and a veteran North Carolina educator, charter school founder, and education policy advocate.