by Tony Roberts
During a nine month period of time in 2010, the Georgia Charter Schools Association, the Colorado League of Charter School, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools worked to collect data that would accurately portray both the adequacy of charter school facilities (compared to standards derived from Georgia Department of Education standards, regional standards, and typical new school construction standards) and the average spending for facilities out of charter schools’ operating budgets.
The result was the completion of the first in-depth study of independent “start-up” charter school facilities in Georgia. This report entitled “Short Changed Charters: How Funding Disparities Hurt Georgia’s Charter Schools” details the state of charter school facilities in Georgia.
The report is based on survey, enrollment, and operating revenue data collected during the 2010-2011 school year. Results are based on the survey responses from 37 (82 percent) of Georgia’s independent “start-up” charter schools, and paint a disappointing picture. Key findings include:
- Charter schools are the only public schools in our state forced to spend operating revenue on their facilities.
- On average, charter schools in Georgia spend $ 631.00 per student from designated per pupil operating revenue on facilities costs. For the average charter school in Georgia, with enrollment of 373 students, this translates into $ 235,363–enough to hire more than 5 additional teachers.
- Removing HB-555 schools – those that are using district facilities without cost –from the analysis, the average facility spending rises to $834 per student or almost 11 percent of per pupil operating revenue.
- Charter school facilities are too small.
- Almost one-half (45.1 percent) of charter school students are in facilities that are at least 20 percent smaller than the Georgia total facility standard. Students in these schools are likely to attend classes in smaller classrooms and/or the facilities do not have the specialized instructional spaces like a library, science lab, art, or music room that are part of a comprehensive educational program.
- Most charter schools have limited capacity to serve federally-subsidized meals for students from lower-income families.
- Over 60 percent of GA charter schools surveyed do not have kitchen facilities that qualify the school to provide federally subsidized free and reduced price meals for students from low-income families.
- State grant funding for public school facilities has provided insufficient benefit for charters.
- For fiscal years 2008 through 2010, charter schools requested almost $33 million. Only 17 percent, $5.6 million was awarded. Even in fiscal year 2011 when grant applications and awards were limited to $100,000, only 55 percent of the dollars requested were awarded.
- Local E-SPLOST referenda are not a significant source of funding for charter school facilities.
- Through 2010, only one school has been approved to receive facilities funds through an E-SPLOST referendum.
- Not all districts are willing to share unused land or facilities with charter schools.
- Seventy-five percent of charter schools are not in district facilities, and one-third of these schools report unused district facilities nearby. To date, no charter school request to use one of these empty facilities has been approved.
- Physical education and recreational options are limited for charter school students.
- More than 47 percent of Georgia charter schools do not have their own athletic fields or access to one nearby.
- Twenty-nine percent of charter schools with elementary grades do not have their own playground or access to one nearby.
- Almost 17 percent of charter schools report not having a gym.
In spite of the facilities challenges faced by charter schools in Georgia, these schools are in high demand, with over 3,000 students on waiting lists. In addition, the Georgia Department of Education’s 2009-10 Annual Charter School Report shows that charter schools in Georgia have been performing as well as, if not better than, other public schools in the state for the last four years. In fact, Fulton Science Academy Middle School in Alpharetta was just named a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School.
It is our hope that the results described in this report will be used to assist the Georgia General Assembly, the Georgia Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and Governor Nathan Deal in determining proper policies to ensure students attending current and future charter schools are treated equitably as compared to students attending tradition public schools.
With all the good that is being accomplished by the students, teachers and administrators in the charter schools in our state, just imagine what could happen if these schools were funded as they rightfully should be – at the exact same level as traditional charter schools? Imagine the possibilities.
At least, that’s the way I see it.
Tony Roberts, Ph.D.
President/CEO, Georgia Charter Schools Association