Della Hasselle of the New Orleans Times-Picayune describes how charter schools in New Orleans have collected coronavirus relief funds from money meant for public schools as well as federal funds meant for small private businesses. Most received money from the Payroll Protection Program, up to $5.1 million for a single school, even though they have suffered no loss of revenues.


More than two-thirds of New Orleans’ charter school organizations have applied for federal loans through the congressional act to help keep businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, garnering criticism from some groups for tapping into a program that hasn’t been available to traditional public schools.

Dozens of New Orleans schools have applied for Payroll Protection Program loans, aimed at shielding small businesses from closure due to COVID-19, according to interviews and a review of documents from over 40 boards operating schools in New Orleans.

At least a third of the charters had received loans, with officials from those organizations saying they got anywhere from about $97,000 to more than $5.1 million in funds, based on their payroll.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the city of New Orleans and created great economic uncertainty for our schools about how we can continue to operate, employ all of our employees, and not dramatically cut services for students, many of whom will return to school with learning gaps and needing additional social and emotional supports,” said Kate Mehok, CEO of Crescent City Schools, which received $3 million.

The money, which comes from a $349 billion stimulus established by the $2 trillion federal CARES Act, can be forgiven if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and if the money is used for salary, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, which along with the Treasury Department is implementing the program.

Critics had already lambasted charter schools around the country for the applications, accusing the non-profits of abusing their status and double-dipping, and were miffed to learn about the dozens of applications to come out of New Orleans, which this year became the first major American city to have no traditional schools.

Like traditional schools, local charters have already received some CARES Act funding through the Louisiana Department of Education. But unlike the charters, district-run schools weren’t eligible for the extra payroll loans.

The charter organizations each got hundreds of thousands of dollars from the $260 million doled out to districts and charters in late April as part of the Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund, another part of the CARES Act, mostly for technology and distance learning.