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Democrats Seek to Cut $40 Million From Federal Aid to Charter Schools


Times have changed for charter schools in Washington. 

The House appropriations bill crafted by Democrats would cut $40 million from the federal charter school grant program. The bill was released at the end of last month, although the cut to charter school grants was not part of the initial bill language or summary released by the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the U.S. Department of Education's budget. 

Right now, charter schools get $440 million from the Education Department in fiscal 2019, meaning the bill would cut nearly 10 percent from the grants. Keep in mind, however, that Congress (including Democratic lawmakers) has approved a relatively small increase for charter schools during the Trump administration. So just because House Democrats want to slash aid to charters doesn't mean it's a done deal. 

The House appropriations committee will hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday, after the subcommittee reported the bill favorably to the full comittee last week. 

Trump wants $500 million for charters, a $60 million increase, in fiscal 2020, which starts Oct. 1. But in March, during a hearing on the Trump administration's proposed budget, Democrats on that House subcommittee blasted the proposals to increase aid to school choice, including charter schools. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the subcommittee chairwoman, was particularly sharp in her critiques of the department's charter school aid. 

President Barack Obama supported charter schools, and some Democrats—like Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a 2020 presidential candidate—still do. But elsewhere, antipathy toward charters among Democrats and progressives has grown as a political force, particularly during Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' tenure at the department. 

While it's disappointing to see Democrats move against charter schools in this way, the bill itself contains several good provisions for charters, said Charles Barone, the chief policy officer at Democrats for Education Reform, which supports charters.

"It is nice to see Democrats investing more overall in education," Barone said, referencing the $4.4 billion funding increase the legislation seeks for the Education Department that includes more money for programs like Title I. "Charter schools benefit from those programs too."

The Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, has yet to release its Education Department funding bill. 

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