Proposed federal charter school rules could add roadblocks to Virginia expansion

(The Center Square) – President Joe Biden is proposing stricter rules for charter schools that apply for federal funding, which could add more roadblocks for charter school expansion in Virginia.

Under the proposed rules, a charter school would need to submit a community impact analysis showing it would meet a currently unmet demand, which would need to be approved by federal regulators. The rules would also prevent for-profit charter schools from receiving any federal funding.

“Even though Congress recently passed Charter Schools Program (CSP) funding for fiscal year 2022 and ensured year-over-year funding was not cut, public charter schools are again under attack,” Nina Rees, the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said in a statement.

“The U.S. Department of Education just proposed new CSP rules and regulations that would disproportionately harm single-site charter schools, as well as Black, Brown, and Native school leaders, and those from rural communities,” Rees said. “Make no mistake, this is a back-door attempt to prevent new charter schools from opening—contrary to the very purpose of the CSP.”

Virginia charter school rules are already stricter than many other parts of the country. In the commonwealth, a charter school must receive approval from local school boards and cannot be approved solely by the Virginia Department of Education. Legislation that would have allowed state approval without local input failed to get enough support to pass after facing opposition from teachers’ unions and legislative Democrats.

Chris Braunlich, the president of the free-market Thomas Jefferson Institute, told The Center Square the rules may not have a meaningful impact under the state’s current rules because of how restrictive they are.

“Because Virginia’s laws are already more restrictive than what Biden is proposing, I don’t think it would affect Virginia significantly at this time,” Braunlich said. “The problem with the rule is that it protects systems, not children, and is the main point made by [Democratic] Senator Cory Booker. Biden is standing with the unions, not students.”

Gov. Glenn Youngkin set a goal to establish 20 new charter schools in Virginia. Currently, there are only seven charter schools in operation and an eighth is awaiting approval in Richmond. A proposal to establish lab schools, which would be run by higher education institutions, is still being debated by House and Senate lawmakers in a joint conference committee.