Wednesday, February 17, 2010

“Publicly funded”? For the most part.

I saw a story the other day—kills me that I can’t remember where—that described charter schools as funded by a combination of public and private funds. That’s often the truth, isn’t it, at least among the high-performing charters people want to replicate? Yet they are almost never described that way in the press; the shorthand description is usually that charters are “public schools that operate with public funds free from many of the strictures of the school district,” or something like that. I do not think anybody keeps track of how much private capital flows to charters (for operating costs, for buildings, for whatever). It is important to mention private funds, where they are relevant—for instance, in discussions about encouraging more charters and replicating the good ones. There are sustainability questions when any venture relies in part on philanthropy; obviously this is an issue other sectors (ahem: journalism, nonprofits) grapple with too. At any rate, I think implying charters are solely publicly funded may at times mask complexity.

10 comments:

  1. True -- but many public schools are also getting by with a remarkable amount of private funding, too. Look at school foundations in more affluent areas: http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/education/article_a06b74d1-9896-52bd-855f-efd2e38e112e.html

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  2. Our charter school gets a pretty decent chunk of philanthropy. We're fortunate. I think about 10% of the charters get 80% of the total philanthropy.

    The median Massachusetts charter school gets perhaps $50,000 per year of private dollars on a $5 million budget.

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  3. In many states charter schools are only funded for operations, not for capital costs, i.e., facilities. Thus they save and fundraise to pay for their buildings, which district schools do not have to do.

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  4. The more relevant question to ask about successful charter school's reliance on philanthropy is what it tells us about the actual cost of educating students versus what we as a society are willing to pay. If in fact it takes more money to pay for longer schools days and better teachers to get the outcomes we want, then journalists could help our politicians and voters understand that.

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  5. As Jason mentioned above, I've attempted to keep track of how much private capital goes into charters in New York City. My full analysis, with spreadsheets, is actually available here (the other link refers to analysis I did on charter school expenses): http://gothamschools.org/2010/01/11/charter-school-philanthropy-2009

    Thought this might be useful for those studying charters in New York City and elsewhere. I'd also love feedback for ways to dig deeper into the data!

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  6. The creaming/selection factor is at least as big an issue with charters, and reporters routinely ignore and deny that entirely.

    Note that in this Time magazine piece on Philadelphia schools, the reporter describing the takeover by a charter operator of struggling schools airily declares "the kids remained," without further elaboration. Actually, the level of attrition at Mastery schools is widely discussed, and ignoring that leaves a big hole. Check-it-and-lose-it journalism?

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1963754,00.html?iid=tsmodule

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  7. I have never understood why charters must find their own buildings—often the biggest barrier to entry. If they are public schools, give them public space.

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  8. Charters get district facilities space here in California (under a measure approved by voters in 2000*), with resulting battles with districts and school communities -- which cause divisiveness and cost money in legal fees that could be supporting students in our desperately underfunded classrooms.

    My own kids' public arts high school has been eyed hungrily by charters over the years, and the school administration has had to put some effort into fending off possible space grabs. However, here in San Francisco, the existing charter schools are not particularly successful, and local costs are so high that charters aren't that bent on expanding here. There are heated controversies in other districts, though.

    And meanwhile, I follow NYC school issues via the Gotham Schools, Ed Notes Online and NYC Public School Parents blogs -- now THEY have near-open warfare between charters and regular public schools over facilities.

    *The measure, Prop. 39, had a separate piece that removed the Prop. 13 "supermajority" requirement that used to require a 2/3 vote to pass a local school bond measure.

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  9. Charters recieve dramatically less operating funding and usually NO facilities funding (Forcing some operating funds to be used for facilities) thus any private funding that may be going to charters is only making up a small fraction of the discrepancy. the GothamSchools post proves as much. Charters in NYC get about 70% of the operating funds as traditional publics ($12,500 vs $18,000) and NOTHING for capital.

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  10. My point is value-neutral about the worth of charter schools. No matter your position on the topic,it is good to be as clear as possible about where their money comes from and why. Same goes for traditional publics, obviously.

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