Minnesota receives $22 million for charter schools
Minnesota is getting $22 million in federal funds to improve and expand the state's charter schools and could be in line for even more funding in the next federal budget.
The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday recipients in the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program. More than $253 million will go to nine state agencies, 17 existing charter networks and six new charter organizations.
"These grants will help supplement state-based efforts to give students access to more options for their education," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement.
These are new grants under the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which was approved by Congress in 2015 to replace the No Child Left Behind law. Both pieces of legislation are iterations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which sets federal expectations and funding for public schools, and was first approved in 1965.
In addition to the $22 million going to the Minnesota Department of Education, Hiawatha Academies, which operates schools in Minneapolis, was awarded a $1 million grant.
DeVos is also recommending Congress' next budget include even more support for charter schools. If DeVos' recommendations are followed, charter schools nationwide could receive nearly $500 million in federal support in the coming years.
Nina Rees, leader of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, encouraged lawmakers to include DeVos' funding recommendations in their next budget.
"While these grants are critical, they fall far short of the need," Rees said in a statement.
DeVos is an ardent supporter of school-choice programs. During the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump spoke of a national school choice initiative that could cost as much as $20 billion.
In her statement, DeVos pointed out that Minnesota is the birthplace of charter schools, an idea that has spread to 43 states and the District of Columbia. There are currently more than 160 charter schools in Minnesota serving about 57,000 students.
"What started as a handful of schools in Minnesota has blossomed into nearly 7,000 charter schools across the country," DeVos said. "Charter schools are now part of the fabric of American education, and I look forward to seeing how we can continue to work with states to help ensure more students can learn in an environment that works for them."
While Minnesota has embraced public school choice for 25 years, so far, state leaders have not backed another education priority of DeVos and Trump: vouchers of public tax money to help students attend private schools.
Republicans in the Minnesota House and Senate advanced the idea earlier this year, but it was rejected by Gov. Mark Dayton and his fellow Democrats.
Supporters of school choice and vouchers argue the programs help students and their families escape failing schools. But critics say vouchers are a step too far and would drain resources from schools that need them most.