Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Starving Charters

Speaking of Andy Rotherham, he's one of the authors of a new report showing how charters are starved of funds, facilities, etc.  Here's a WSJ article about it:

·         FEBRUARY 8, 2011

·         http://professional.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703293204576105933558899942-lMyQjAxMTAxMDAwOTEwNDkyWj.html

Starving Charters

A new study shows the funding bias against non-traditional schools.

Look quickly and you might think that charter schools have it easy, given the celebrated documentary "Waiting for 'Superman,'" the efforts of reformers like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, and the support of the Obama Administration. That's why a report out Tuesday is a needed corrective: It demonstrates how government policies regularly discriminate against charters.

Published by Bellwether Education Partners, a reform-minded advocacy group, the report examines the finances of Aspire Public Schools, a network of 30 California charter schools with 9,800 students from kindergarten through high school. With extended school days and years, innovative curricula and other hallmarks of charter autonomy, Aspire ranks as California's single best school system serving a majority of very poor students. Yet it operates with margins of only 0.6%, or $60 per student, which make it harder to scrape together funds to open new schools.

Charter critics claim that the steady but relatively slow growth of networks like Aspire proves that they aren't "scalable," and that charters will always be a limited phenomenon. But the Bellwether report shows that the real impediment to Aspire's growth is politics.

Aspire's first problem is that, like 17% of all charter schools, it's in California, where education spending is about 20% below the national average. Bellwether calculated what Aspire's financial standing would be if it operated in 23 other states (which, with California, account for 90% of America's charter-school population). It found that the network would be dramatically better off in 18 of those states—with an operating margin of 12.2%, on average, as opposed to 0.6%.

A 2010 study from Ball State University found that charter schools receive an average of 19% less funding per pupil than traditional public schools. In some districts, like Washington, D.C., that shortfall can be as high as 41%. In California it is 9%—but that's largely because the state has more private donors. "In terms of public dollars alone," the Bellwether report notes, "California charters receive 36% less funding per pupil than the average California public school."

The reason for such disparities is opposition from the bureaucracy and teachers unions, which have many creative ways to deny money to charters. Charters have to pay for their buildings while traditional public schools use publicly owned facilities. Charters also can't access public debt markets to raise capital—and banks, for their part, consider charters risky borrowers because they lack substantial collateral and operate on time-bound licenses (usually five years) that can be revoked.

But these difficulties don't have to be eternal. Report co-author Andrew Rotherham points out that all state governors could today order a full audit to pinpoint where funding disparities between charters and traditional public schools exist. Legislators would then have a road map for reform. First up could be governors of states where the Ball State study says the disparity is most severe, at more than 25%. That would include Rick Scott in Florida, Chris Christie in New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo in New York.

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