Charter schools have always been chameleons of convenience. "Public school" sounds good for marketing, but "private business" is what comes up in court when the issue of transparency appears. Like Schroedinger's cat's training school, they can be both or neither depending on what is most financially advantageous for them.
It may be the financial advantage that most defines them, and that was never as clear as it was when the National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools advised its members to put in for the small business loans available under the coronavirus relief packages (CARES).
SBA7 (A) is a paycheck protection act, designed to help small businesses keep paying essential personnel during the current mess. The intent of the act is pretty broad and includes a surprise for fans of the church-wall-- under the bill, churches can have the government pay their pastor's salary. The language used to justify it in the bill closely follows the language from the decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the case that set the stage for Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. I can't wait to see all the ways our tax dollars are going to be funneled straight into churches. Also, if churches now fall under the Small Business Administration, will we be talking about taxing them any time soon?
NACPS thinks charters might also be eligible for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which are meant to overcome "temporary loss of revenue." Which is a curious argument, since the whole case for calling charters "public" schools is that they are paid with public tax dollars-- so what revenue would a charter be missing?
NAPCS says you'll need to check how your state law feels about charter school "non-governmental status." It gives some guides to the requirements, although it does not include on its list, "One requirement is that the recipient be a business, and you are a school, so don't bother."
There are plenty of businesses out there that will really need some of this money, so it seems especially uncool for charter schools to try to grab some of it. And it's not clear at this point how many charter schools are going to take NAPCS advice. I'd like to think that somewhere out there there are some ethical charter operators saying, "That's nuts. We're a school, not a business."
But in the meantime, here is national charter school leadership saying, "Yes, we are absolutely businesses." I'm glad to see we agree on this point.