That's right. It's that ugly.
Funding for charter schools for ten years was tied to the operations spending of the school district(s) in which a charter school students reside. They do not get facilities funding. When school district operating expenditures increase--which has been the norm--the charter school funding formula increased. For those seldom occasions when a school district's spending declined, charter funding from that district decreased.
That is how it should be: charter funding tied to the expenditures of the resident school districts of their students. Today, this is no longer the case, and it's a travesty for charter schools.
This school year, via an act of the New York State Legislature, charter school funding was "frozen" to prior-year levels; that is, 2008-09 payment levels for the 2009-10 school year. This cost charter schools statewide an aggregate of nearly $50 million.
Now, Governor Paterson, who acquiesced to the current-year funding freeze, is proposing in his 2010-11 Executive Budget to continue the "freeze" at 2008-09 payment levels -- two years prior.
This is a continuation of an outrage and an injustice to charter students.
Double-cut for Charter Schools, Which are Overly Reliant on Single $ource
If cuts in state education aid to school districts results in lower school district spending, charter funding will be reduced on a one- to two-year lag basis based on the statutory formula's calculation. Yet, the state imposition of a funding ceiling for charter schools means that prior years' spending growth by school districts will not accrue to charters - compounding the funding reduction and constituting a second funding cut; or, a double cut in charter school funding.
Charter school funding is heavily reliant on a single source: school district payments. Note that all charter school students are counted as district enrollment when calculating state school aid payments to districts; and, for those school districts with more than two percent of their enrollment and budget connected to charter schools, districts get "transition aid" for added charter school enrollment on top of the state school aid for all charter students. Not for nothing are those same charter school student households paying school property taxes.
False Equivalence Between Charter Funding and District Foundation Aid
The state legislature and Governor Paterson have made the false equivalence between state "Foundation Aid" (i.e., general school district aid) and charter school payment levels, egged on by the state teacher unions, the UFT and NYSUT, which strenuously oppose charter schools. Since Foundation Aid has been frozen, the story-line goes, so should charter funding.
In reality, state Foundation Aid to school districts and charter school funding has been an apples-to-oranges comparison since Foundation Aid is one portion of a school district's revenue (e.g., for NYC, it amounts to funding one-third of the education budget). School districts have other funding "buckets" from which to draw, such as local property, taxes if they choose; and federal funding, including Stimulus Funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Charter schools, in contrast to school districts, have no such luxury. They are dependent almost entirely for their funding from student payments from their resident school district(s) which, in turn, are aided by the state.
School districts this year (2009-10) were aided heavily from the federal ARRA program with additional funding, leading to higher school district spending. Yet charter funding was artificially frozen by the state. Thus, after a decade, the direct connection between school district operations spending and charter funding was severed this year. That means school districts spent more thanks to federal sources, while charter funding was artificially frozen by the state.
Charter Funding Inequity Made Worse by So-called "Freeze"
This funding discrimination consigns charter students to a gross funding inequity. Never mind these students get no facilities funding; now their operating aid has had an artificial ceiling that Gov. Paterson is proposing to continue.
Part of the confusion between state Foundation Aid to school districts and charter school funding is that charters are funded on a one- to two-year lag based on school district operations expenditures. Thus, large state funding increases for New York City and urban districts generated by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity litigation were supposed to flow through the charter formula this year. Instead, charter funding was frozen by the state.
Stop Treating Charter Students as 2nd Class Citizens!
Charter schools for too long have tolerated inequitable funding with school districts, primarily from lack of facilities aid. Now, the funding freeze in charter school funding exacerbates this inequity even as school districts can spend more from other sources besides state aid.
Governor Paterson and the state legislature must rethink this double-cut in charter funding. They should undo the funding freeze and provide facilities funding to charters. Anything short of that would continue to treat charter school students as second-class citizens.
for The Chalkboard
(see me Twitter @ "PeterMurphy26")
Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.