Charter advocates have reacted with astonishment and outrage at the Trump-DeVos decision to fold the federal Charter Schools Program into a block grant to the states, along with 29 other programs. The Trump administration’s goal is to shift federal funding to states and let them decide how to spend the money.

Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat writes the story here, detailing the administration’s rationale and charter advocates’ reaction. 

Jim Blew, formerly of the Walton Family Foundation, which claims to have launched one of every four charters in the nation, brushed off the charter lobbyists: 

“The federal lobbyists for charter schools sound a lot like the lobbyists for all of the other competitive grant programs,” Assistant Secretary Jim Blew told Chalkbeat in a statement. “In their desperate communications, they have exaggerated the importance of CSP — just like other lobbyists,” he added, referring to the Charter Schools Program.

It’s not clear that the program is in real jeopardy, since Congress has previously disregarded the Trump administration’s proposed budgets. But the budget proposal and combative rhetoric suggest that charter advocates do not have as staunch an ally in the administration as they previously believed.

“We are saddened and puzzled by the Department of Education’s comments,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which has receivedfederal charter dollars. “We advocate for the federal Charter Schools Program because we believe it is a lifeline for students.”

Rees formerly was education advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney and to entrepreneur MIchael Milken, who engaged in education philanthropy after serving a term in prison for financial crimes.

Strangely, Barnum refers to Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) as “left of center,” which is laughable since they were founded by and funded by hedge fund managers, some of whom are billionaires and may not even be Democrats. DFER’s funding has gone to supporters of school choice, and their beneficiaries show no interest in funding, class size, teachers’ salaries, integration or other issues that matter to progressive Democrats.

It is ironic that the Republican-dominated charter industry will now have to count on Democrats in the House to save the federal Charter Schools Program, which DeVos has used to fatten avaricious corporate charter chains.

The federal CSP has funded a large proportion of the nation’s charter schools, acting like “the Small Business Administration” for charters entrepreneurs, as NPE executive director Carol Burris said recently on Twitter.

Barnum wrote:

A recent presentation from the Department showed the figure was slightly higher: as of 2016, more than 3,100 existing charter had received such a grant, with the program helping to fund close to 45% of all operating charters. (Morabito, the spokesperson, acknowledged the error when asked about it by Chalkbeat.)

For charters that opened between 2006 and 2016, the share was even higher — 60% had received a federal grant.

Studies of the federal Charter Schools Program by the Network for Public Education found that it was riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse. More than 1/3 of the federally funded charters either never opened or closed soon after opening. This is a program that should be eliminated.

What will the Democrats do?