In this New York Daily News op-ed, NECSN New York State Director Claudia P. Granados discusses the funding inequality charter schools around the state face.
Lost in the recent fight over TV ads about racial inequality in New York City schools is another sort of inequality — that kids in charter schools only receive a fraction of the funding that all other public school children receive.
That this inequality is enshrined in state law makes it even more stomach-turning, especially when you consider that charter schools serve an overwhelming number of poor kids and children of color.
State law essentially says that a child who attends a charter school is allowed to receive only 68% of the funding given to a child who attends a city school — even if those two kids are best friends and live right next door to each other, or even if those kids are brother and sister.
Talk about a tale of two cities. Unless and until those who line up to try and kill charter schools face up to the fact that the law has a different set of rules for families and children in charter schools, they will have no credibility when they talk about ending other inequalities.
Here's how a “dollars follow the child” system is supposed to work: when a child attends a charter, the funding for that student follows her or him to the school, according to a formula in state law.
But it’s never quite worked that way in New York, and it's charter kids who are paying the price. A kid is a kid is a kid, but our law still picks winners and losers among them and that is fundamentally unfair.
A string of flaws, omissions and exceptions in state law allow far too much of the funding for charter students to get stuck in the same large, expensive school district bureaucracies these families are fleeing — instead of reaching their children’s charter school classrooms.
Report after report substantiates this inequity. In 2014, researchers at the University of Arkansas found that, on average, children in NYC charters only received 68 cents on every dollar received by district children - a gap of about $7,623 per student. And just this year, the New York City Independent Budget Office (no friend of charters) used a different analysis, but found an even greater inequity facing the city’s existing charter schools: the lack of funding for facilities. Some new or growing charters that are denied co-location by the Mayor will receive partial funding under a new 2014 law, but that law left a glaring omission by denying existing charter schools any facilities aid.
While well-intentioned, state lawmakers have actually made the problem worse in recent years. They created a Frankenstein formula that caps funding increases and will actually increase the funding inequality problem over time. The state Senate’s effort to provide some relief in the form of about $200 per student in “bullet aid” was greatly appreciated, but was a one-time thing and ultimately won’t close a multi-thousand-dollar gap.
There is also a constitutional lawsuit challenging the way the state funds charters, brought by charter parents from Buffalo and Rochester where the disparity is even greater - aptly captioned Brown v. New York. But make no mistake: this is a statewide problem. If the families prevail, the funding formula would be fixed to help all charter kids statewide.
But it shouldn’t take a lawsuit to fix such an obvious problem.
It’s time to go back to a common sense way of funding charter school children. Education funding belongs to children, not bureaucrats -- so allow more of it to follow the students into their classrooms when they attend charter schools.
Granados is the State Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network
This op-ed originally appeared in the October 25 edition of the New York Daily News.