Stimulus Questions Answered, Round 5: What's in it for Charters and Private Schools?
Yup, we're still answering your stimulus questions. You can read Round 1, Round 2, and Round 3, and Round 4.
Has there been any clarification as to whether or not federal money will be available for independent schools?
There's no money in the bill specifically for private or independent schools. But some private schools that serve students in special education do receive funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which received about $12 billion in the stimulus. And, as we wrote here, any funds left over in the stabilization fund after states "backfill" their education budgets can go to any program authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act (and a number of other federal education laws). That would include Title V of ESEA, which is intended to support innovative programs. Private schools can indirectly benefit. And, we don't know yet what the grant criteria will be for the $625 million in innovations grants. That money is supposed to go to non-profits (which some private schools are) that partner with school districts or with a consortia of schools.
I should point out though, that there is a specific prohibition in the bill that says none of the money can go to provide financial assistance to students to attend private elementary or secondary schools. Which I'm taking to mean "no vouchers."
Is there anything in the stimulus package to help charter schools?
Much of the money flows through existing formulas, such as Title I or IDEA, so any public charter school that benefits now from the formula will get a piece of the stimulus. The stabilization fund is used first to backfill cuts through the state's school funding formula, so as long as the charter school gets money through the state’s funding formula, it would get money through the stabilization as well. Given the nature of the Education Department's innovation fund, it’s likely charter schools would be good candidates for those grants as well. Charter schools may also be eligible for school bonding monies, including an expanded New Markets Tax Credit, which charter schools have already tapped. There's also a $100 million pot of money through the USDA for school food equipment, and we're still trying to figure out if charters can access that. We'll update you on that later. Read more about the stimulus and charter schools here.
Regarding special education, do you know of any accommodations for Maintenance of Effort that would allow districts to use the money to pay for programs that already exist?
Thanks to EdWeek's Christina Samuels, who blogs over at On Special Education, for answering this one. The maintenance of effort provisions that currently exist within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act will apply to stimulus funds. That means that you can't take all of your stimulus money and use that to pay for your current special education programs. There is SOME flexibility in the 2004 reauthorization of the IDEA to "supplement, not supplant" provisions, though. If the federal government allocates more money to a district from one year to the next, the district is allowed to take the difference between the two allocations, halve it, and use that figure to reduce their own funding requirements. So, if a district received $1 million in federal funds for a fiscal year, and $1.5 million the next fiscal year, the district is allowed to reduce its local funding requirements by $250,000. But it's important to note there are other ways to use stimulus money, without expanding programs and without having to maintain that effort the next year, when the money likely disappears. For example, a one-time expenditure on educational technology wouldn't be a program expansion, and wouldn't be subject to maintenance of effort.