Mayor Bowser should provide D.C. charters with funds to cover crisis costs

Today, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein writes that some charter schools are considering applying for funds under the recently approved federal CARES Act. From her article:

“The $2 trillion federal relief package finalized last week, officially known as the CARES Act, includes nearly $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, a small-business loan program. The program incentivizes small businesses with fewer than 500 employees to keep their workers by covering about two months of paychecks for employees who make less than $100,000 annually. The businesses can have their loans forgiven if they avoid layoffs or pay cuts.”

I sit on the board of a nonprofit that intends to apply for PPP dollars because the money that normally supports this organization is not expected to come in. The result is that employees will almost certainly have to be furloughed. This appears to me to be the perfect use of the program. I imagine that businesses that have had to shutdown like restaurants and small stores whose employees are currently out of work would benefit from this aid.

However, charter schools are not in similar situations. They receive their money from the city government and that revenue stream is not expected to be interrupted.

This is not to say that charters are not currently experiencing a financial bind. Most are proving free breakfast and lunch to their students. In addition, schools have provided computers to pupils and internet access so that they can participate in distance learning.

According to Ms. Perry, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools and Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, have encouraged charters to submit a PPP application.

The Post reporter includes this comment by Mr. Pearson on the issue:

“There is a lot of uncertainty about the city budget. . . Absent of something like this program, we should expect layoffs from public charter schools, and the whole point of this program is to prevent these layoffs.”

I’m not so sure about the uncertainty. The District of Columbia had an estimated $500 million surplus at the end of its 2019 fiscal year. I think in a time of crisis Mayor Bowser and the D.C. Council should figure out how to come to the aid of these schools.

As we know, support for our public schools, both charters and DCPS, by law must come through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. However, I do not foresee a problem with establishing a special emergency grant plan that all schools could access. Already, a coalition of nonprofits and individuals have established the DC Education Equity Fund to assist schools with technology needs in the face of the coronavirus. The city could certainly augment this effort.

Desperate times require our representatives to provide strong leadership. By utilizing the city’s significant budget surplus to assist schools during this period we could let the federal government provide aid to those who no longer are receiving a paycheck.

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