Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Charter School Facility Funding Inequities, Part 2

It's been known for quite some time that charter schools use anywhere from 15 to 33% of their operating funds on facility costs. Now the CLCS report on facilities has quantified that amount at $480 per student.

The report said charter schools spend $480 out of the $6,369 they receive in per-pupil funding on operating expenses for facilities because, unlike traditional public schools, they must buy or fix up buildings not owned by the school districts where they operate. With operational costs subtracted, their per-pupil funding falls below the state minimum, the report said.

Why do charter schools have to use operating funds for capital when other public schools don't have to? It's because they don't have the access to bond money and mill levy money the way school districts do that have a tax base. Sure, statute requires school districts to consider charter school needs when they have a bond question on the ballot, but there's no requirement to include the charter school. Instead the charter school can run their own ballot question. Guess how many times that's been successful in Colorado since it was enacted about five years ago? Zero!

Additionally, school districts have other places to seek capital construction funds, including the state facilities grant fund. This figure is probably a reflection of the people on the committee that makes decisions on which entities get the funds, but the CLCS report says less than 1% of CDE facilities grants have gone to charter schools since 2000. Less than 1%, while charter school students comprise more than 7% of the state's public school students.

How long will the citizens of Colorado permit these financing inequities? For years, legislators have been hearing that charter school facility conditions are no where near those of most public schools and yet last year the General Assembly cut more than 3 million dollars in capital construction money for charter schools. Check this link for the historical funding on this: http://coloradocharters.blogspot.com/2007/07/charter-school-capital-construction.html

Last summer Pioneer School of Expeditionary Learning in Fort Collins had to close its doors because they could no longer afford the cost of the facility. Many charter schools have depended on capital construction funds in order to meet their payments. Getting more than half their capital construction money cut last year was very hard on a number of schools.

It's a good question for everyone to ponder: How long will this inequity be condoned?

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