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What is the Impact of COVID-19 Regulations on Charter Schools?

Charter schools are unique in their independence and operation. Due to their relative independence, they do not have to meet the strict demands of the bureaucracy of the public-school district. They can offer more flexibility in their curriculum, school hours, school calendar, learning methods, and technology offerings. When the pandemic hit, charter schools were able to pivot to online learning and meet the needs of their student population more rapidly. Charter schools are providing students and families with stability and continuity of education which are essential in this new coronavirus landscape.

Charter schools were able to move online learning relatively quickly, use creative solutions to meet technological needs, and provide meals to their student population. Public schools struggled under pressure. Additionally, many public schools based their decision-making in part out of a fear of  lawsuits, delaying instruction.

Legislation Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The United States Congress passed laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to address the financial and public health needs of the country. The following laws passed in March 2020 to offer relief to individuals and businesses, as well as state and local governments affected by the health crisis:

  • The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act: Provided funds for research, equipment stockpiles, vaccine development, and state and local health budgets.
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA): Provided funding for nutritional aid, testing for COVID-19, expanded unemployment insurance, and family and sick leave benefits.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act: Provided emergency funding for businesses and individuals, as well as state and local governments.
  • The Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Enhancement Act: Provided additional funding for small businesses, hospitals, COVID-19 testing, and additional funds to extend the Paycheck Protection Program under the CARES Act.

Legislation Affecting Charter Schools Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The CARES Act particularly has implications for charter schools. Charter schools with fewer than 500 employees must comply with sick leave provisions under the FFCRA and CARES Act to qualify for refundable tax credits for providing sick leave. The CARES Act also allows charter schools to seek financial relief. Charter schools may qualify for various loans, grants, tax credits, and deferrals to utilize toward programs necessitated by the pandemic, such as continuing payroll and paying wages for their employees. As non-profit entities, they may be able to qualify for some provisions under the CARES Act or apply for small business association loans.

The CARES Act may allow charter schools to obtain waivers from the Secretary of Education on assessment, accountability, and reporting results of the assessments under the federal education law. The CARES Act also allows charter schools to obtain additional funds to use toward implementing public health and safety measures used to prevent and prepare for COVID-19 effects on the schools, as well as for costs of cleaning and mental health support. Additional funds may be accessed for programs related to child nutrition.

Navigating the CARES Act

For parents seeking an alternative to the conventional public school, charter schools offer valuable and unique learning environments. The pandemic has highlighted some of the ways the charter school system has met the new challenges due to the flexibility they enjoy. However, even though charter schools are independent from public school districts, they are presented with unique legal challenges. Charter schools now have to respond to the different laws, regulations, and needs created by the pandemic.

The legal team at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser offer comprehensive legal representation to charter schools in the Philadelphia region. Pennsylvania education law can be complicated, and the additional regulations passed by Congress recently create additional challenges. Our attorneys can guide you through all the legal resources available to ensure that you continue to provide quality education to your constituents. For additional information, contact us online or call 484-318-7106. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and New Jersey.