Award Winning is Nice... We Need Something Special

In response to one of my recent posts, Beaumont City Councilwoman Nancy Gall wrote a comment that the Highland Academy Charter schools would have “required scarce District funds”.  I replied to her comment asking her to educate me how charter schools take money away from our schools. To me, it was counter-intuitive. If the money from the state follows the student to the charter school, the district is still receiving the same amount of money per student remaining in the district’s non-charter schools. The only way I see the district losing money is if the cost to educate the students moving to the charter school is less than the money the district was receiving from the state. Since the district is operating with multi-million dollar deficits, it is clear their cost per student is greater than what they are receiving. 

I haven’t heard a response from Councilwoman Gall, or any others with her position. I am very pro-school choice but I still don’t know enough about charter schools to commit. I think there are better ideas but we would need a majority of the school board willing to support ideas outside the Government School Culture, even if it goes against the GSC administration.

Many of us moved to Beaumont because we wanted a special place to raise our kids. Many have grown up here and lived their whole life in the pass. Many bought a home here with a plan to move on somewhere else in 5-10 years. The reality of the current housing market is that we will all be here together a long time. Award winning schools are nice but, I want to see our community build something special, not just award winning. I think if we build something special, more people will want to bring their families here. Regardless whether you are pro or anti-growth, demand for homes in Beaumont helps us all.

I am still interested in learning how charter schools take from our school district so I decided to find the answer on my own using Google. Below is what I found. I’ve displayed excerpts from articles and webpages that seem to address my quest for information, the link to the full articles follows each excerpt. I wasn’t able to find any documentation that supported the councilwoman’s position but I have an open mind and I am sincerely interested in hearing from the anti-school choice side.

However, I’m not convinced the charter school provides the best opportunity for our kids, I think a more unconventional approach will give us something special for all our kids, GATE students included. I think we need to create something special that the board, the administration, the teachers and the parents can get behind. Something special in our schools and our community that makes more families want to move here.  In an earlier post, I outlined an idea I had for a Palm Technology Academy patterned after a school in New York. (Click here to link to the post). I believe a district sponsored school choice option is thinking outside the box and will start to break down the existing Government School Culture.

Here are the results of my search...

Do charter schools take money away from public school districts?

Charter schools are funded by state, local and federal funds at the same level and in the same way that non-charter public schools are. In general, both revenues and expenses follow the student. When a student attends a charter school, the charter school is now responsible for providing that student’s education, and therefore incurs the expenses of the teacher, facility, textbooks and supplies. Funding for that student therefore goes to the entity that is providing the education: namely, the charter school rather than to the non-charter public school that student would otherwise have attended.

Charters receive state funding, generally based on their enrollment.

Similar to regular public schools, this funding is based on a formula for each child enrolled in the charter school. However, such formulas vary from school to school and state to state.

In some states, such as Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota and New Jersey, charters receive less money than regular schools because states and districts withhold administrative fees. In other states, like California, additional funds are made available to charters to cover facilities and start-up costs.

Many charters have ambitious programs that are not fully funded by state or district formulas and therefore do their own fundraising to obtain grants and additional donations. There is also a limited amount of federal funding to help start new charter schools.

Funding for facilities can be a challenge for charter schools. In some cases, districts provide free space for charters or funding for charters to pay for facilities. But even with this support, charter schools often end up moving multiple times due to the difficulty of finding a permanent home. As you look at a charter school, be sure to ask about its facility status and whether it will need to move again in the future.

MYTH: Charter public schools take money away from public schools. 
REALITY: In California, public school funding follows the student, with the funding going to the public school the parents choose, whether a charter school or a traditional district school. When charter public schools are funded, there is no overall loss of public school money because charter schools are public schools. However, even with the funding "following the student" charter schools receive less funding for each student than a school district would if it were to serve the same student.

MYTH: Charter public schools receive more money than district public schools. 
REALITY: In most cases, charter schools receive LESS federal and state money than district public schools, for a variety of reasons. For instance, charter schools do not have the same access to local parcel taxes and bonds as traditional districts and often have to pay to rent facilities out of their operating funds. Charter schools have also been particularly hard hit by the state budget crisis because they are not able to access low-cost financing as school districts can to help address state deferrals. Find out more.


A Parent's Guide to Charter School Funding Challenges

All of California's public schools have faced considerable budget challenges in recent years. Charter schools also face a number of unique, severe challenges around funding, which include:

On average, charter schools receive less funding per student than district schools.

California law is clear that charter schools should receive the same level of funding as all other public schools. In reality, charter schools generally receive less money per student, for a variety of reasons.

School districts receive much of their funding from the state in the form of "categorical funds," which must be used for specific programs. Charter schools have more flexibility, receiving much of their funding as a "block grant," which they can use for a range of purposes, instead of the more restrictive categorical funds. However, that grant provides at least $125 less per student than the statewide average spent on students that don't attend charters for the same programs.

Charter schools also don't usually have access to money traditional school districts can raise from school bonds or parcel taxes. The parents of charter school students pay their fair share of these taxes, but the charter schools their children attend don't benefit.

In addition to those challenges, newer charter schools have been impacted by changes in programs due to the state budget crisis that "freezes" funding levels at prior year levels. New charters do not have a "prior" year, so they may be losing more than $1,000 per student because of this.

Many charter schools are forced to spend a large percentage of their budgets on facilities.

By law, school districts are required to provide space for many charter schools, but that does not always happen. As a result, many charters pay to rent facilities-- money that would otherwise be spent in the classroom. Basically, charter schools in this situation have to take money from the classroom to pay for the classroom itself. This unfairness can widen the funding gap between a charter and non-charter schools by 15 to 20%, or as much as $800 per student.

Under the state's Charter School Facility Grant Program, charter schools located in areas where 70% of students are low-income can get up to $750 per student to pay for facility rental and lease costs. This funding is helpful, but a many charter schools cannot access these programs due to limited funding, eligibility restrictions or both.

State budget deferrals hit charter schools especially hard.

California is in such a severe budget crisis that the state is struggling to guarantee it has enough cash on hand to pay its expenses on time. One way that the state government has dealt with this crisis is through "deferrals" -delaying its required payments to public schools for operations. These deferrals have gotten worse every year since 2007. In 2012, some charter schools had 35% or more of their expected state payments delayed several months. Imagine your boss asks you to buy something for $100, but he only pays you back $65 on time, with the rest coming months later. Wouldn't that make it harder for you to pay your bills?

School districts can borrow money at very low interest rates, However, charter schools are often forced to pay more to borrow money, if they can find a bank to lend them money at all.


The Future of Charter Schools

and Teachers Unions