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Chicago charters, and their advocates, get millions in federal loans

About a dozen Chicago charter schools, and a well-known charter advocacy organization, received millions in federal relief funds from the Trump administration, according to data released by the federal government Monday.

Among those schools are small networks like Urban Prep, Betty Shabazz, and the Academy for Global Citizenship, as well as larger chains, such as KIPP and Perspectives. Illinois Network for Charter Schools, a charter advocacy organization, was also a recipient of the money.

In total, Illinois-based schools or charter groups will receive at least $5 million from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. The forgivable loans, meant to help sustain payroll during the coronavirus pandemic, weren’t available to public school districts. (Chalkbeat is also a nonprofit and received federal paycheck protection funding.)

The list doesn’t include exact dollar amounts for the schools, only ranges. Urban Prep, for instance, received between $1 million and $2 million, while KIPP received between $2 million and $5 million, according to the data.

It’s only the latest example of how Chicago charters, which receive public funds but are privately run, have gone their own way since the pandemic on everything from grading and student advancement to teacher retention. (Nationally, some charter schools have been criticized for taking public funding as they bring in sizable donations.)

In a statement, the Illinois Network for Charter Schools called the money “an immediate lifeline,” and noted that charters are facing “a more challenging landscape than... a few months ago,

The Chicago school board approved $75 million for emergency response services for schools in March, and as of June, the district said it spent almost $55 million, mostly on computers and pay for frontline workers. At the state level, Illinois announced in April it expected to receive $569.5 million in emergency school funds from the federal government to spend on its coronavirus response.

Last spring, charter schools faced a monthslong impasse with Chicago Public Schools about funding before agreeing to a new funding formula that gave charters more money for students who need special education or bilingual services and for facilities.

Like other schools, charter schools are facing high expenses for reopening classrooms during the pandemic and uncertainty about how they could be affected by budget cuts. All schools — district, charter, and private — are sharing other federal coronavirus relief funds earmarked for education, though how they split it has also stirred controversy.

Monday’s list of nonprofits and businesses receiving at least $150,000 in PPP loans from the federal government is the first public disclosure of how many charters have benefitted from the funds.

The list does not include exact figures for the loan amounts, only ranges, and organizations receiving less than $150,000 were not named.

Stephanie Wang contributed reporting.

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