NY charter networks sue U.S. Department of Education over ‘promised’ funds

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Four New York charter schools and networks filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Education Monday alleging nearly $1 million in grant money was “stripped” from their classrooms.

The promised funds were “wrongfully swept away” from eight charter schools in the state due to the “bureaucratic error,” according to a press release about the federal suit.

“These funds were guaranteed, awarded funds that were promised to our schools and our children,” said Emily Kim, founder and CEO of Zeta Charter Schools, which is among those suing the DOE. “They were budgeted for.”

“These lost funds are harming our programs, and we will need to be able to recover those so we can continue to provide excellent education to kids,” Kim said at a rally in the Bronx Monday.

The DOE awarded New York a $113 million grant a decade ago to help newly authorized charter schools get off the ground or high-performing charter schools add grades or up enrollment.

Four New York charter schools and networks filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Education.
J.C.Rice
The vast majority of students at the schools — from 97 to 99 percent — are children of color, according to a press release.
Gabriella Bass

The state was in the process of doling out those funds until fall of 2019, when the schools allege the feds swept back the money, citing an expiration in the grant term.

Reasons for the state’s delayed disbursement were not immediately clear, though Kim said such delays are “customary.”

The New York State Education Department, which had requested a grant extension, according to the press release, requested a waiver to complete the disbursements with a newer bucket of funds for charter schools — but was refused last summer.

“By denying NYSED’s Waiver Request, the Department has in effect stripped the School Plaintiffs of their lawfully awarded subgrants,” states the suit, filed in the Southern District of New York.

Materials submitted with the complaint include a letter from the state citing a “mutual misunderstanding” of the length of time they could draw from the original funds, “no doubt exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and the ensuing increased workloads.”

Kim added that the state “had expected that [the extension] was granted. They hadn’t heard back for months and months and it was swept back.”

“There is no good reason for them to deny this,” she added.

Other schools impacted include Buffalo Collegiate Charter School, Valence College Prep Charter School in Queens, Emblaze Academy Charter School in the Bronx, Neighborhood Charter School in the Bronx, Persistence Prep Academy Charter School in Buffalo and Cardinal McCloskey Community Charter School in the Bronx.

The US Department of Education did not respond to an immediate request for comment.
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The vast majority of students at the schools — from 97 to 99 percent — are children of color, per the release. Many are also from low-income backgrounds, from 65 to 100 percent of the schools’ student populations.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is introducing new rules for the federal grant program that could ban charters controlled by a for-profit company from receiving the start-up money, and bar the use of some funding until later in the school opening process.

The rules could also prioritize charter schools that collaborate with local school districts and require a “community impact analysis” of the prospective school, including how it will meet demand and promote diversity.

“The federal government’s rejection comes in the context of proposed rules that would drastically restrict access to CSP funding,” said Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres.
Robert Miller

“The federal government’s rejection comes in the context of proposed rules that would drastically restrict access to CSP funding,” said Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY-15), who represents the South Bronx.

“The intent of those rules is to sabotage charter schools. And I reject the agenda of discriminating against charter schools,” he added.

The US Department of Education did not respond to an immediate request for comment.

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