Included in the $2.3 trillion CARES Act passed in March to cope with the COVID-19 crisis was something called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER. This fund set aside $13.2 billion for K-12 schools to cope with the new normal in preparing education spaces for COVID-19. Things like enhanced cleaning, or preparing online learning material, or maximizing spaces to ensure social distancing for potential return to school were the expenses contemplated for this money.
Every school qualified, including charter schools, for this money, some of which was passed out again last week. The money was and is essential to maintain public education through this crisis.
However, only charter schools would qualify for another program included in the CARES Act – the $669 billion Payroll Protection Program (PPP) -- a fund meant to keep small businesses and non-profits afloat during the economic shutdown. Public entities like school districts and local governments did not qualify for the program, which has been essential to keeping businesses from collapsing.
But charter schools, which are organized as 501c3 non-profits, did qualify.
So did their sponsoring organizations.
So did their management companies.
All tolled, a charter school could receive federal money four ways:
- Through ESSER, just like every school district in the country
- Directly to the school through the PPP
- Indirectly through their sponsoring organization through the PPP
- Indirectly through their management company (which could be non-profit or for-profit) through the PPP
This resulted in the typical Ohio charter school receiving as much as $817 in total federal CARES Act funding while the typical Ohio public school district only received $150.
That’s more than 5.4 times as much.
When schools that educate 90 percent of your children get 5.4 times less federal revenue to stay afloat than schools that educate 6 percent of your children, perhaps it's time to examine that federal revenue stream's equity.
Perhaps most outrageous is this result: Children in nearly 1 in 10 charters each received as much federal aid through the CARES Act as children in Columbus – Ohio’s largest school district – received in state aid this year!
There are other shocking incongruities. In no particular order:
- Charter Schools received as much as $82.3 million in PPP funding either directly or indirectly. They only received $55 million in ESSER funding.
- Of the bottom half of all districts and charters in per pupil CARES Act funding, only 9 were charters; 444 were districts.
- Meanwhile, 97 percent of Ohio charter schools were in the top half of total federal per pupil aid.
- The top 98 per pupil federal revenue recipients were all charter schools, representing more than 1 in 3 Ohio charter schools.
- Children in 2 of 3 Ohio school districts got less per pupil federal aid than children in the charter with the lowest total federal aid.
- Meanwhile, children in 116 charter schools got as much as $1,000 (or more) each in federal aid. Children in only 3 districts did (Bloomfield-Mespo in Trumbull County, Youngstown and East Cleveland -- the last two of which are state takeover districts).
- One charter school (SMART Academy) got as much as $26,000 per pupil in federal money.
Not every charter school quadruple dipped. But some did. Here’s how it worked in some cases.
The Academy of Urban Scholars in Columbus
- $108,961 through the ESSER aid that was available through the CARES Act to all Ohio schools.
- As much as $700,000 in direct aid from the PPP.
- Sponsored by the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, which received as much as $1 million in PPP funding, the relative share of which is $22,265.
- They are run by the National Center for Urban Solutions, which received as much as $350,000 in PPP funding -- $213,195 of which would have gone to the Academy.
- That’s more than as much as $1.04 million in federal CARES Act funding for the school, which has 305 students, which works out to as much as $3,424 per pupil – about the same amount as each student received in state aid last year in Putnam County’s Ottawa-Glandorf Local School District.
There is even one charter school that quintuple dipped.
Village Preparatory School Woodland Hills
- This school received $501,215 through the ESSER aid
- They received as much as $1 million in direct PPP funding
- Village Prep Woodland Hills was sponsored by the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation. Village Prep’s share of the up to $1 million Buckeye received from the PPP would be as much as $35,989.
- Village Prep is run by the Breakthrough Schools, which received as much as $1 million in PPP funding. However, Breakthrough also has a fundraising arm called the Friends of Breakthrough Schools, which received as much as $350,000 from the PPP program. Village Prep’s share of the $1.35 million total between the operator and its fundraising operation would be as much as $234,668
- Village Prep Woodland Hills received as much as $1.77 million in federal aid for its 493 students – as much as $3,594 per student, or almost the exact amount of state aid each student received in Tuscarawas County’s Garaway Local School District this year.
Others only triple dipped, but did so at large amounts.
- The school received $1,081,480 in ESSER funding available to all schools
- The school also received as much as $5 million in direct PPP funding
- KIPP is sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which received as much as $1 million in PPP funding, with KIPP’s proportionate share being as much as $256,987 of that
- So for KIPP’s 1,373 students, it was able to draw down $6.4 million in federal CARES Act funding. That’s $4,638 per student, or as much as $1,379 more than what every student in Columbus received this year in state aid.
No school district could double, triple, quadruple or quintuple dip into federal revenue streams to help its students deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
But charter schools could, and many did.
It is unfair that charter schools – which have for years insisted they are “public schools” – be granted more opportunities to access federal funding than the schools that educate 90 percent of our children simply because of their corporate structure.
And this shows once again how Ohio charter schools are not really “public schools”.
When it benefits them to be considered “public schools”, they tap into those funds.
When it benefits them to be considered businesses, they tap into those funds.
One final reminder: Barely 30 percent of charter school grades are A, B or C. Meanwhile, about 70 percent of school district grades are A, B, or C. Yet the federal CARES Act is providing 5.4 times as much money to the schools that get 70 percent Ds and Fs.
Sometimes I wonder.
Note: “As much as” will be a shorthand for acknowledging that the CARES Act funding as currently reported through the PPP is being reported as a range between two dollar amounts. I reported data for the upper most amount and qualified it by saying “as much as” because the entity could be receiving less than that, but I wanted to explain how much it could be. I would urge the Treasury Department to release exact amounts for a more accurate dollar figure. The calculation was made in the following way: for charter schools, each school was searched for its ESSER funding and whether it is receiving direct PPP funding. Then each charter school’s sponsor, as listed by the Ohio Department of Education was searched. Then each charter’s operator was searched. If a sponsor or operator was found, then the amount granted to those entities were divided by the number of students each sponsor or operator oversaw in all the schools they sponsor or operate. Then each charter school was granted a proportionate share of that overall revenue based on the number of students they had. It was assumed that every dollar received would go to benefit each student through the retention of teachers and staff meant to help educate each student. There were 16 charter schools whose student populations weren’t reported in the state’s charter school directory, or were reported as having 0 students. However, every one of those schools received ESSER funding (a total of $1 million), with some receiving direct and indirect PPP funding. However, because the state didn’t report the student population, they were not included as part of the per pupil calculations utilized in this analysis.