Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Charter Schools Not "Struggling" Financially

Contrary to recent media report, study does not say state’s Start-Up charters are “struggling”

A study released last week by the Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University found that the financial health of the state’s charter schools are mixed, which is counter to headlines that appeared in media reports about the study.

The study examined the financial stability of the 25 Independent Start-Up charter schools in Georgia during the 2006-2007 school year, the most recent time frame where complete financial data was available. Independent Start-Up charter schools are those that operate with full autonomy from a local school district. Media report not correct Though the headline of a media report framed the study as suggesting that charter schools are “struggling” financially, this is not the case.

The study stated that the “financial health of Georgia’s start-up charter schools in the 2006-07 school year [was] mixed,” and added that most had a “positive” financial position.The report also stated incorrectly that a total of eight charter schools in Georgia had shut down for financial reasons up through the 2006-2007 school year. What the Georgia State University Study actually reported was that of eight charter schools which closed in Georgia, just four had closed mainly for financial reasons.

Also, it is significant that not one school studied during that period has closed for financial reasons in the two years since the study (2007-2008 and 2008-2009).

Independent Start-Up charters underfundedFor those Independent Start-Up charter schools that are having some difficulties, this is due in large part to the fact that charter schools are underfunded by school districts on the front end, receiving less funding than the traditional public schools in their districts – a point which was raised in the study.

Additionally, charter schools must pay for acquiring and maintaining facilities out of their per-student funding as there are little to no funds available for facility costs. Also, charter schools that provide transportation do so at tremendous expense with little to no reimbursement for this service which is routinely provided by school districts for non-charter schools.

“Unfortunately, school districts see the charter schools as independent entities that they have ‘authorized,’ and do not support those schools at the same level as their ‘own’ traditional schools,” said Dr. Tony Roberts, Chief Executive Officer of the Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA). “In short, school districts should support their charter schools with the full range of administrative and support services, at district expense, and charter schools need and deserve the same per-pupil funding for instruction and facilities allotted to traditional public schools.”

Start-Up charters thriving academicallyIn spite of the funding inequity, the charter school movement is flourishing in Georgia. There are currently 115 charter schools throughout the state, up from 35 just five years ago. The state’s 34 Independent Start-Up charter schools are more than holding their own in terms of student achievement. A GCSA analysis of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) data from the 2008-2009 school year found that 82 percent of Independent Start-Up charter schools and 81 percent of all Start-Up charter schools (which includes those fully supported by a school district) made AYP, compared to the state average of 79 percent for all schools.

“The Georgia Legislature, Department of Education and Board of Education should be commended for their support of quality Start-Up charter schools,” Dr. Roberts said. “Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are held to the ultimate standard of accountability: live up to the terms of your charter and provide your students with a quality education, or close. Indeed, this is how it should be.”

Keys to financial stability for Independent Start-Up chartersIn order to help Start-Up charters continue to thrive and provide quality educational options for students, parents and communities across the state, several initiatives should be enacted:

· There should be some form of standardization mandated at the state level for financial reporting of charter schools. Without standardization and consistency, collection of the data and oversight is – and will continue to be – problematic.

· School systems authorizing charter schools need training on appropriate oversight of the schools. The school systems should support the charter schools by providing specific feedback related to financial reporting expectations, formats, etc., and need to be held accountable for appropriate oversight.

· Charter school boards and leaders need specific training on non-profit management. The Georgia Charter Schools Association offers this training on an on-going basis as a service.

“The large majority of public charter schools in Georgia are great stewards of the public funds entrusted to them,” Dr. Roberts said. “They stretch those dollars to achieve higher student achievement rates, higher graduation rates, and a higher percentage of schools making AYP. For this, the charter school community in Georgia should be commended and rewarded with higher funding levels.”
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