Wednesday, April 30, 2008

English Language Learners in Colorado

The English Language Acquisition Unit at CDE in its report, "English Language Learners in Colorado: A State of the State, 2007," noted the following:

* Colorado's total K-12 enrollment growth rate over the last 12 years = 13.37%
* Colorado's ELL total enrollment growth rate over the last 12 years = 352.68%
* The top 4 languages spoken in Colorado schools in 2006-07 included -
Spanish - 13.4% of total student population (106,718 students)
Vietnamese - .33% of student population( 2,789 students)
Russian - .2% of student population (1,347 students)
Korean - .15% of student population (1,236 students)
* Colorado's foreign-born population increased 160% between 1990 - 2000.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Entering the Home Stretch

This morning at the administrator's breakfast one of the questions posed to the group was how to keep staff and students focused on academics during these last few weeks of school. My daughter has a case of "senioritis," which means I regularly hear exactly how many days of school are left.

Staff and students both need regular pep talks--reminders that these last few weeks are vitally important. In many new charter schools, especially the schools in their first year of operation, it takes an incredible amount of dedication to make it through the home stretch. The first year is just plain hard! It's much the same for a first-year teacher. Sometimes it seems like there's no way of actually reaching the goal (the last day of school).

To all the staff and students in Colorado's charter schools, you've done a great job focusing on increasing student achievement this year, keep it up for XX more days!

Monday, April 28, 2008

More on Benefield's Amendment to Strip Charter School Funding

Face the State has an article about the debate on the floor of the House last week about the at-risk funding provision added to the School Finance bill (HB 1388) by Rep. Debbie Benefield. Rep. Rob Witwer, has numerous charter school families in his district and defended the 110 charter schools that would have lost significant amounts of funding had the provision stayed on the bill.

The Benefield amendment would have applied only to charter schools and not school districts across the state. She gave no defense as to why the policy was good for charter schools, but not as a uniform policy for the state's public education system.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Senior Pranks

It's that time of year when high school seniors across the country are doing what teenagers do best: pranks. I know all adults are supposed to frown on these antics, but quite frankly some are pretty creative--and just plain funny.

In Chicago, ten boys dressed in banana costumes were chased by another boy wearing a gorilla costume. Just plain funny and no one was hurt, right? Well, the boys got a seven day suspension for their comic relief from high school.

One of my sons let a chicken loose in the school hallway, in addition to a few tree frogs. The principal and I both put on our "serious" faces in front of my son, but did have to chuckle behind the princpal's closed door. Well, until the school's biology teacher called me, totally upset that these animals were traumatized by being let loose in a school. I didn't tell her we eat chicken at our house.

Not long ago an El Paso county school district had to start school two hours late because the air had been let out of about a hundred bus tires. Peak to Peak had their entire soccer field forked by seniors. A nearby school had about a hundred white mice, backs painted with the senior's graduation year, let loose in the school. And my dear nephew who lives in Montana (with a great sense of humor, by the way), couldn't walk in his graduation ceremony because he'd ridden his motorcycle down the hallway.

I certainly wouldn't promote vandalism or anything illegal, but some senior pranks are just plain funny. Let teens be teens and have a little fun as they leave the security of their parent's homes and high school behind to step out into the unknown. And if you hear of any good senior pranks, I'd love to hear about them!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Charter School Board Training Materials

There's a wealth of information online for charter school governing board members and within the next year there will be online board training for Colorado's charter school board members. The training is all based on the handbook developed as a joint effort of the Colo. Dept of Education, Colo. League of Charter Schools and the Colo. Charter School Institute.

This handbook will be transferred into online training modules with a pre-test and post-test. Individual board members who can pass the pre-test won't have to take the module and post-test. Upon completion of all modules, the board member will receive a certificate of completion. This online training will be considered the "essential basics" for new charter boards or individual charter board members who have joined an established charter board.

Further, there are a variety of resources in the electronic guidebook of best practices. In addition to best practice documents from other charter schools, there are board training resources that boards should use independently to further their knowledge base.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

At-Risk Funding Cut Removed from School Finance Bill

The House amended HB 1388, the School Finance Act bill, on second reading yesterday. This bill would have cut funding at 106 charter schools by redistributing at-risk money to only those students who technically qualify for Free/Reduced cost lunches. The problem stemmed from the fact that only 28% of the state's charter schools offer a hot lunch program and not all of those have "approved" programs that allow the school to qualify for the federal reimbursement program.

State Representatives also amended the bill to include a total of $10 million in charter school capital construction money. The base amount is $5 million. Last year the General Assembly cut $3 million and returned the capital construction fund to the base amount after several years of higher funding. According to the amendment, the additional $5 million will be distributed based on need, as in the BEST bill (i.e., ADA, health & safety prioritized), and not using the standard formula that's been used in the past.

The House should consider HB 1388 on third reading today and it could be heard as early as tomorrow (Thursday) in Senate Education.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

GOAL Academy Applies to Charter School Institute

Today the founders of GOAL Academy presented their charter application to the Charter School Institute board and responded to questions posed by board members. GOAL Academy's origination is within the Dolores Huerta Preparatory HS in Pueblo; a part of the Cesar Chavez Charter School Network.

According to founders, the initial group of students who entered Dolores Huerta weren't all able to successfully master the rigorous, college-prep curriculum. Consequently, school administrators began working with an alternative online program, which better suited the student's needs. The online program even picked up some students who had previously dropped out of school.

GOAL Academy says they're "high touch and high tech," meaning they have a 25 to 1 student to teacher ratio and believe that meaningful human contact is vital to the success for these at-risk students. GOAL intends to serve individual students throughout the state.

On May 22nd, at the next regularly-scheduled CSI board meeting, the GOAL Academy charter application will be voted on.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Jay P. Greene Joins the Blogosphere!

I've enjoyed his book, Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools--And Why it Isn't So, and now Jay P. Greene can be read regularly on his new blog.

Ben DeGrow at Mount Virtus says:

In only a few days Jay already has provocative posts up on the proximity of
teachers union headquarters to state capitols, comparisons of sexual misconduct
data on male public school teachers vs. male Catholic priests, and more evidence
of the myth on K-12 education spending. (As he explains on the introduction page, all views expressed on the blog are his, and not necessarily those of the respective
institutions for which he works.)

KIPP Charter Schools Report

The Washington Post has an article by Jay Mathews about the latest KIPP annual report card. Most KIPP schools serve grades 5-8. Students go on to attend exclusive private or competitive public high schools. There's a KIPP school in Denver, KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy, where many of the students go on to attend Denver's #1 public high school: Denver School of Science and Technology.

The KIPP design came about as a result of Dave Levin and Michael Feinberg teaching middle schoolers in Houston. After accomplishing phenomenal academic gains with their students, they decided the program should be replicated.

The model is very rigorous with 9.5 hour work days, summer school and school on every other Saturday morning. Teachers carry cell phones and are available to their students 24/7. But many of the KIPPsters come in 2-3 grade levels below and the extra time is necessary to get them up to high achievement by eighth grade.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Charter Boards Should Only Meet Once a Month

Some charter school governing boards meet too often and for too long. If a charter school board meets more than once a month they're probably getting involved in too much at the school. Moreover, board meetings should not go past 10 p.m. It's unlikely parents can stay after 10:00 and the board members can't make good decisions that late. Plus, it's hard to find people who are willing to serve on the board when it impacts their being able to get up for work the following day. Not to mention the charter school administration needs to be at the school bright and early the following day!

There are common mistakes that charter school boards make. Well-meaning parents get too involved when they start the habit of going in to the school office when they drive carpool. The more they hear about, the more they like to involve themselves. The best advice is to physically limit the time associated with school activities.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Management Company Dilemma, Part II

Most EMO-operated charter schools have EMO-appointed board members. If not the entire board, than at least the majority of the board are appointed by the EMO.

Recently DPS told the Denver Arts & Technology Academy (DATA) board that they'd only deal with them on the charter revocation issues that needed to be discussed, not the management company (Mosaica Education, Inc.). EMOs are always at the table during charter school application hearings, contract negotiations, renewal hearings, and appeal hearings. Sometimes the charter board, familiar with having a limited role in governing their school, relies heavily on EMO expertise that they haven't had the opportunity to develop themselves. Moreover, sometimes the very credible, hard-working individuals on the charter board (appointed or not) don't know what's "normal" for a charter board member because they're only familiar with the situation at their school, which was probably already established when they joined the board.

Some EMOs are considered "for profit" while others are "non-profit." Critics say no one should be able to "make" money by running a school. Since several EMOs are backed by philanthropic organizations or individuals, EMOs are quick to point out that it could be 10-20 years before the school turns a profit and at that point it's a legitimate return on an investment.

Probably more of an issue, however, has been the rates charged by EMOs. I've seen 5-16% here in Colorado. But again, the type of service provided for the fee is a big factor on whether or not the fee is realistic. And ultimately, the biggest factor of all is if students are making sufficient academic gains.

Authorizers in the state struggle with how to interact with EMO-operated charter schools. Since several EMOs operate in multiple school districts, authorizer research includes the history of the EMO financially, the efficacy of the educational program to realize student achievement, and a review of the EMO performance agreement. Authorizers are almost guaranteed to ask how charter board members were recruited/appointed/selected and dig into how much individual board members know about their school. Once an authorizer gets a hint of a "name only" board member, I've seen charter applications torpedoed in minutes.

Not all school districts have updated their charter school application policies to keep up with the trend toward more EMOs in Colorado since about 2004. The CSI Request for Applications has a specific section for charter applications from EMO-operated schools. EMOs must submit a copy of their most recently executed performance agreement, academic data from their other schools, the last audited annual financial statement, and other related documents that would provide the board insight into the EMOs operations.

There are numerous advantages to an EMO-operated charter school, especially those that work well. Parents find it easier to understand the type of school to expect because the company has other operating charters that it has modeled. Business services, including HR, can be centralized, relieving the individual charter school of having to focus on these routine operations. There's typically good expertise for the principal to rely on with problematic situations and the EMO is available to help resolve issues when they arise.

Many EMOs have gained excellent reputations across the country. While some EMOs are regional, others have grown to the point of having upwards of 50 schools in numerous states. Some EMOs have established a reputation for focusing on quality academic and character development in their students.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Management Company Dilemma, Part I

I am going to start a new series, discussing the "hot topics" in charter land. Recently the subject of management companies has dominated many conversations; popping up in discussions about charter denials, charter revocations, contract issues, funding and authorizer oversight.

Management companies are routinely called "education management organizations" (EMOs) or "charter management organizations" (CMOs). But the type of service an EMO provides varies; i.e., some have a central office for almost all business services, while others expect each school to have their own business services.

One gray area is the fact that some EMOs consider the principal and teachers their own employees, which makes them eligible for private retirement accounts instead of PERA. The question then arises, if these are considered "private" employees, are they still covered under governmental immunity laws? I would bet that many of the teachers enjoying their private retirement accounts have never considered the liability possibilities. It's very common for the principal to be an EMO employee, but we're beginning to see more staff members included in this policy. This will probably remain a gray area until there's litigation to bring clarity to these laws.

In Colorado, an authorizer cannot enter into a charter contract with a management company. This means that several EMOs have come into the state and recruited board members. This has proven to be both very effective and very problematic. The charter contract is executed between the authorizer and the charter board. In effect, the board employs the EMO by executing a performance agreement with them.

This gets tricky if the charter board believes the EMO has not fulfilled its obligations under the performance agreement. For example, if the students are not making sufficient academic gains, and the charter school wants to utilize a different piece of curriculum that is not acceptable to the EMO, who makes that final decision? What if making the decision to change curriculum is a deal-breaker and the EMO pulls out? With the provisions in many EMO contracts, that means the charter board would be holding a charter on paper only -- the school's assets, curriculum and facility usually belong to the EMO.

Related to this dilemma, since the EMO employs the principal, what happens if the board and the EMO disagree on whether or not that principal should be retained or fired? There's typically mutual collaboration in the decision of who is hired, but what happens when the situation turns sour?

The degree of autonomy or authority a charter board have at an EMO-operated charter school also varies greatly. I know boards that have never seen a financial accounting of the full per student amount for their school. When one school couldn't hire a specific position, they didn't have the authority to reallocate the money saved from that delayed hire. In fact, the board had never seen any financial accounting other than the 5% under their discretion.

How does a charter board implement the school's vision and mission without control over the finances? Typically, the situation works well when everything is going smoothly and the EMO is doing a good job of operating the school. It's when there are problems, that they seem to exacerbate by a strained relationship between the charter board, the EMO and the authorizer.

I'll conclude this discussion in Part II.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Legislative Update -- HB 1159 and SB 208

HB 1159, Institute Charter Schools, sponsored by Rep. Fischer(D-Fort Collins) and Sen. Bacon (D-Fort Collins) has been approved by both houses and has been sent to the Governor for signature. The bill makes it easier for school districts to obtain exclusive chartering authority and removes annual renewal provisions. Further, districts that were denied ECA may remedy and reapply to the State Board. Another new provision requires the CSI applicant to provide evidence that the student population they will serve reflects the community in which the school will be located and a plan for serving that student population.

SB 208, Background Checks, sponsored by Sen. Windels (D-Arvada) and Rep. Benefield (D-Arvada) has been approved by the Senate and was recently amended in the House Education Committee. It's awaiting second reading in the House. The amendments were only technical. This bill codifies current practice for charter schools, which is to conduct a background check on all prospective employees. Further, the legislation requires charter schools to check the CDE database to verify if a prospective employee has been "red flagged" for any reason.

Monday, April 14, 2008

School Finance Act Amended to Cut Charter School Budgets

Rep. Debbie Benefield (D-Arvada) amended the School Finance Act bill, HB 1388, last Thursday to adjust charter school funding based on the number of at-risk students enrolled. In this new plan, 106 charter schools would get their funding cut, while 35 charters would realize an increase. Of the 106 charter schools that would get budget cuts, 17 would have cuts in the six figures. James Irwin Charter School would be cut $468,622; COVA cut $450,725 and Frontier Academy in Greeley cut $399,961.

According to the Gazette:
"There's a lot of hostility toward charter schools in the state of Colorado," said Keith King, a former House minority leader who is administrator of Colorado Springs Early Colleges charter school.

Colorado Springs Gazette coverage: http://www.gazette.com/articles/schools_35197___article.html/charter_school.html

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Global Village Academy

Yesterday I visited the first-year school, Global Village Academy, when I did a board training for them. This school is very revolutionary! Kids are getting total language immersion in Kindergarten, 85% in first grade and second grade, etc. This year they're offering Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Next year they'll add French.

Kids need to learn language tones before their brains and speech patterns make it much more difficult. Content at GVA is delivered via the foreign language. This means students have double the learning to do. But interesting enough, a child may have dyslexia with the English language, but not with another language. Particularly with a language that isn't related.

Global Village Academy is in Aurora, near Buckley and Alameda. The school currently enrolls 230 students in grades K-5. The school is working toward International Baccalaureate certification in three years.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

School Choice for Kids Website

Any parent in Colorado who wants to check out schools for their children should consider a visit to the School Choice for Kids website a must-visit! The site is in both English and Spanish. One of its coolest features is that you can search for schools within a certain radius of your home. Further, there is a search capability for different school types.

If you're ever asked to give information to another parent about schools, refer them to this website! schoolchoiceforkids.org

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Charter School Facility Funding Inequities, Part 6

According to the CLCS report, Shortchanged Charters: How Funding Disparities Hurt Colorado's Charter Schools, more than 81% of charter schools have not been included in a district bond election question in the last five years. Why? It's because the statute doesn't require them to. It only requires them to "consider" the charter school's facility needs.

For many charter schools that have been included in district bond questions, their facilities are paid for with charter school per pupil revenue and if the charter school were ever to close, the district would take over the building. Some charter school board members have asked themselves if they've created a situation where an antagonist school district would have an incentive to close the charter school. For many others, they're happily enjoying their new facilities.

100% of a Denver High School's Students Accepted Into College!

Are you wondering if the title to this post is accurate? 100% of students at a Denver high school accepted into college? It's true. Denver School of Science and Technology is graduating their first senior class and all of them have been accepted into college! This with 40% of their students coming from lower-income families and 60% are minorities.

Lest anyone think DSST accomplished this because of some silver bullet, they didn't. It was simply lots of hard work by both the faculty and the students. When many of the students entered DSST as freshmen, they were multiple grade levels behind in the core subjects. They had to attend summer school and put in long hours in order to earn their right to attend college.

For about half of these students, they will be the first in their family to attend college. The possibilities for these students are endless! Not just because of their academic accomplishments, but because they have learned skills through hard work and perseverence that will serve them the rest of their lives.

For a great editorial on DSST, read today's Denver Post at http://www.denverpost.com/editorials/ci_8868539

Late addition: DSST is on the cover of the Rocky Mountain News at http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/apr/11/79-seniors-79-bound-for-college-this-fall/

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Islamic Charter School in Minnesota

Today's Minneapolis Star Tribune has an article about a charter school operating in Grove Heights that has numerous indicators that it has crossed the line between the separation of church and state. The school is housed in a mosque, it offers "Islamic studies" at the end of the school day and its sponsor is an organization called Islamic Relief. In Minnesota, nonprofit organizations can sponsor charter schools.

The article states:
TIZA's operation as a public, taxpayer-funded school is troubling on several fronts. TIZA is skirting the law by operating what is essentially an Islamic school at taxpayer expense. The Department of Education has failed to provide the oversight necessary to catch these illegalities, and appears to lack the tools to do so. In addition, there's a double standard at work here -- if TIZA were a Christian school, it would likely be gone in a heartbeat.

Charter School Facility Funding Inequities, Part 5

"Charter school facilities are too small," states the CLCS report, Shortchanged Charters: How Funding Disparities Hurt Colorado's Charter Schools. Not only smaller, "considerably" smaller it says. The report compared standards used by school districts for their schools and charter schools, even charters that had recently built new buildings, and still charter school facilities are "considerably" smaller.

My guess is the primary reason for this is that charter schools cannot afford a facility that is comparable in size to a school district facility. As a taxpayer, I'm glad to know that not all public schools in the state are as elaborate as those built by most school districts. However, knowing that many charter schools routinely have students working in hallways is the other extreme.

Finding an operating charter school can be very difficult; I've been in the parking lot of a charter school and didn't know it was the school I was looking for. If a charter school is in a normal building, we say, "it doesn't look like a charter school." A few months ago I had a school district call me and ask if it was OK for a charter school to use modular buildings. Modulars are the facility of choice for LOTS of charter schools! In fact, the charter schools sell them to each other, passing them around incestuously.

Even though many charter schools operate in sub-standard facilities, the staff, students and families are excited to have a school that suits their needs and rarely complain. In fact, parents consider it normal to help with cleaning or preparing the soccer field. They're just happy that their child is getting a good education!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

School Finance Bill Introduced

This year's School Finance Act bill, HB 1388, has been introduced. The bill has $5 million designated for charter school capital construction, but this amount makes me wonder what happened to the $10 million folks were saying would be included this year.

If you remember, last year legislators cut more than $3 million from this fund to create the new Division of Online Learning within CDE in response to an online education audit report. The base amount, created with Amendment 23 funds and supplemented numerous times during the Owens administration, was cut without reason or explanation. See this post for historical funding levels. You'll see that even if this line item stays at $5 million this year, it'll be half of what it was last year.

At last fall's state charter school conference Gov. Bill Ritter was asked why he allowed the $3 million cut in capital construction. He stated that legislators intended to cut the entire $8 million, but he supported keeping the base $5 million.

The League of Charter Schools is asking for charter school parents to contact their legislator about this bill. Given last year's attack on this budget line item, it's a good time for parents to get involved!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Charter School Facility Funding Inequities, Part 4

The CLCS report, Shortchanged Charters: How Funding Disparities Hurt Colorado's Charter Schools, says that "most charter schools have limited capacity to serve federally-subsidized meals for students from lower-income families." This has been an issue in charter school appeal hearings when a charter school intends to serve indigent students but doesn't have the financial capacity to offer a hot lunch program.

For lower economic income families, not having federally-subsidized meals may be a deterrent to the child attending the charter school. The Charter Schools Act and the Charter School Institute Act both state the act's legislative purpose as being to serve at-risk students and yet this hinderance persists.

Some charter schools run a hot lunch program through their school district. Presently there is an urban school district that is saying charter schools cannot operate their own hot lunch program without a fully-operating kitchen and all the proceeds from the program will go to the district. Because a charter school cannot get the federal reimbursement unless it is through their district, there are few options for the charter schools.

Often parent volunteers bring in school lunches or the school contracts with fast food vendors. Neither of these programs offer the federal subsidy. Some charter schools simply cover the cost of lunches for Free or Reduced Lunch-qualifying students.

Certainly more financing options and program flexibility is needed in order to increase the number of charter schools that are able to offer a federally-subsidized hot lunch program. As with most charter school solutions, maybe unique options are needed.

Bob Schaffer and Charter Schools

You've probably seen the TV commercials with kids saying, "Thanks, Bob!" for his role in creating Colorado's charter schools.

In 1993, when the Charter Schools Act was approved by the legislature, Bob Schaffer was a state Senator and co-sponsored the bill (SB93-183). If memory serves me correctly, Bob was on the Education Committee at the time. A few years later Bob and his wife, Maureen, helped start the Liberty Common School, a K-9 charter school in Fort Collins. Last year, the Schaffer's son graduated high school at Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins. Maureen served on the governing board at Liberty Common School for many years.

Presently former-Congressman Schaffer serves as the Vice Chair of the State Board of Education, representing the 4th Congressional District.

Read more at: http://www.9news.com/news/article.aspx?storyid=89516

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Charter School Facility Funding Inequities, Part 3

Most public schools in Colorado rely on property taxes to fund their capital needs. Small school districts, or poor districts, have a more difficult time. A few years ago, several districts without the means to finance their needed capital projects sued the state in what is commonly referred to as the "Giardino lawsuit."

The CLCS report, Shortchanged Charters: How Funding Disparities Hurt Colorado's Charter Schools, says that:

* On average, charter schools in Colorado spend $480 per student from designated per-pupil operating revenue (PPOR) on facilities costs.
* For schools renting space that figure is $536.
* However, for schools that have bought or built buildings they now own, the figure increases to $650.
* About a quarter (28 percent) of charter schools have access to school district buildings or land. These schools have lower facilities expenditures than charter schools that rent or pay debt service for facilities they own. These charters spend about $189 per student on facilities.

The PPOR amount is designated by the state Legislature each year in the School Finance Act bill. From this amount, school districts pay employees, buy textbooks, and fund administrative costs. The Legislature didn't intend for PPOR to be used for capital needs. Instead, they add an additional amount, called "capital and liability insurance reserve" for capital needs. Schools must pay their liability insurance from this fund and whatever is left may go to capital. In addition to this cap reserve fund, school districts may raise money through property taxes.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Today's Charter School Rally

Over the lunch hour today students from KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy, The Classical Academy, Mountain Phoenix Academy and Colorado High School convened on the west steps of the Capitol to recognize Charter Schools Week in Colorado. The rally was sponsored by the League of Charter Schools. Speakers included a TCA parent, KSPA Principal Rich Barratt, a student who is the Student Council President at Colorado High School and State Rep. Terrence Carroll. Rep. Carroll said he supports charter schools because he knows that they give opportunities to students of color who otherwise would not receive a good education. He told of his own experience of growing up in an economically depressed area of Washington, DC. Rep. Carroll co-sponsored the Charter School Institute Act in 2004.

Teachers Burned by the Internet

You'd think most teachers or people wanting to become teachers would know enough to keep certain things off their social networking website. Believe it or not, some people didn't figure this out and it cost them their job. This NEA article on these postings also explains that the Ohio Education Association encouraged their members to wipe personal profiles off their web pages.

Do teachers have free speech rights to blog or post sexual content or inuendo on the Internet when they're not working? The key is if there is the potential for their off-duty behavior to negatively impact their job, they can be fired for off-duty behavior.

Besides the law, who wants their child being taught by someone that dumb?

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?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

League Charter School Facility Report Released Today

Today the Colorado League of Charter School released a report on charter school facilities titled, "Shortchanged Charters: How Funding Disparities Hurt Colorado's Charter Schools." The report provides information garnered from 64 charter schools, including this information:

* Charter schools are forced to spend operating funds on their facilities.
* Every year tens of thousands of Colorado students are denied a seat in a charter school because of a lack of available space.
* Most charter schools have limited capacity to serve federally-subsidized meals for students from lower-income families.
* Charter school facilities are too small.
* Physical education and recreational options are limited for charter school students.
* State grant funding for public school facilities has provided little benefit for charters.
* Local bond elections are not a reliable source of funding for charter school facilities.

Facilities, and their cost, have been the prime issue for charter schools almost since their inception in 1993. For the handful of charter schools that have a "regular" public school-type facility, we joke about it "not looking like a charter school." Most charter schools are in warehouses, supermarkets, strip malls and even greenhouses. Almost everyone agrees charter school facilities are substandard and yet the responses to this fact are quite varied. Parents and charter school leaders tend to say their facility is adequate even though students have to play in an alley or the only place for students to eat lunch is at their desk. On the other hand, I've heard legislators, during committee hearings state that "charter school founders said they could do it cheaper," seemingly suggesting that it's OK for one class of Colorado's public school students to have substandard facilities.

Over the next week or two I'll write a series of blog entries on charter school facilities and the findings in this report.

Colorado Springs Early College--In the News

A first-year charter school, Colorado Springs Early College, is highlighted in the Gazette at: http://www.gazette.com/articles/school_34018___article.html/springs_ability.html

The school offers both a high school diploma and Associates degree to graduating students. The school relies on the Accuplacer to ensure students are placed at their ability level in the core subjects.

Colo Springs Early College joins Southwest Early College (Denver) and Dolores Huerta High School (Pueblo 60) in the group of charter high schools using this type of educational model in partnership with an institution of higher education.