It’s now been about a month since U.S. public schools began closing in response to the novel coronavirus. During that time charter school leaders have scrambled to put in place distance learning, get kids fed, support staff in learning to work virtually, communicate with parents, and navigate numerous other unanticipated challenges. Leaders juggling so many competing demands hardly have time to pay attention to what’s coming out of Washington. But federal coronavirus response legislation passed in March has numerous implications for charters, along with other public schools and education nonprofits.
That’s why Bellwether teamed up with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools on a new resource to help charter school leaders and support organizations understand how recent federal legislation might affect their schools and students. This resource looks at five areas in which the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) affect public charter schools, including:
- New paid sick and family leave requirements that affect charter schools as employers
- Financial assistance for small- and mid-sized businesses and nonprofits that charter schools may be eligible to access
- Provisions that support elementary and secondary schools and state education systems in preventing, preparing for, and responding to effects of the novel coronavirus
- Non-education funding streams and flexibilities that charter schools and other public schools or education nonprofits may be able to use to cover costs associated with responding the novel coronavirus or better serve children, families, and communities during this public health emergency
- Provisions related to student loans and the Corporation for National and Community Service that may affect some charter school employees
The “paycheck protection program” loans available to small businesses (including nonprofits and sole proprietorships) through the CARES Act have drawn considerable attention, but most analyses do not address the unique considerations that charter schools must take into account in considering whether or not to pursue these programs. Further, numerous other CARES Act programs and provisions that have gotten less attention can be used to support coronavirus-related costs incurred by education organizations or meet needs of children, families, and communities they serve. For example:
- Charter and other public schools can take advantage of new flexibilities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that eligible children and their families continue to receive food they need during this crisis
- The Rural Utilities Service’s Distance Learning, Broadband, and Telemedicine Program makes grants to build capacity of rural communities to support distance learning and telemedicine (both in high demand these days) — a new competition for $72 million in funds opened April 14
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance funding can help education nonprofits and local governments cover expenses related to emergency protective measures such as transportation, provision of essential needs for humans affected by pandemic disease, and provision of food, water, and essential items
And these are just a few examples. This new resource is designed to help charter schools understand the resources that may be available for them or the families and communities they serve, and access additional information that can help them comply with new requirements, apply for flexibilities and funding they are eligible for, and make informed decisions in this uncertain time.
Many federal agencies are still developing guidance and processes to distribute new funds provided through the CARES Act. And because many funding streams flow through state or local governments, charter school and district leaders will also need to pay attention to how state and local officials are choosing to use these funds. As additional information about these programs emerges, we’ll continue to update this resource to help charter schools and other organizations keep up with federal policy and funding developments that may affect them.