Published Online: July 25, 2013
Published in Print: August 7, 2013, as States, Districts Set Policies to Give Charters Financing for Facilities

States Rework Policies on Charter Buildings

Several states have been working to change policies and budgeting practices to help charter schools identify and pay for better facilities.

In Idaho, education officials representing both traditional district schools and charter schools came together this year to work on a plan for equitable facilities funding for charter schools.

After a series of compromises by both district and charter groups, the final recommendation was for the state to provide 20 percent of facilities costs for charters in its per-pupil allocation the first year of the program and 30 percent the next year; after that, the funding would increase or decrease in increments of 10 percentage points, with a cap at 50 percent and a minimum of 20 percent, depending on fluctuations in the overall state education budget, said Jason Hancock, the deputy chief of staff at the Idaho education department.

"It was important to administrators that future increases in that equivalency percentage would be tied to the budget,” he said. “If charter schools were getting more money for facilities, it was because all schools were receiving more money."

The proposal passed the legislature with minimal changes and was signed into law in April.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee's state-run Achievement School District—which was created with $22 million from the $500 million Race to the Top grant awarded to the state in 2010—education officials are aiming to move the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state into the top 25 percent of student achievement within five years.

To do so, the achievement district has relied largely on conversion charters in the low-performing schools.

Conversion charters are those that were previously a traditional public school before becoming a charter.

To cut back on the competition between charters and regular schools, the conversion charters can only pull students from schools in the Achievement School District. In exchange, the charters operate in district facilities rent-free.

"We don't want this to be a financially adverse situation for the home district," explained Malika Anderson, the chief portfolio officer for the 1,600-student Achievement School District.

Ballots and Bonds

In California, a series of lawsuits stemming from a 2000 ballot measure has put the state in the limelight for the charter school facility movement. The measure, Proposition 39, requires that public school facilities be "shared fairly and equally among all public schools, including those in charter schools."

Proposition 39 has been critical in helping charters find adequate facilities, said Ricardo Soto, the senior vice president for legal advocacy and general counsel for the California Charter Schools Association. But even with the law in place, the state’s charters face challenges in securing space and paying for it, he said.

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For starters, the law applies only to charter schools with more than 80 students, which not all startup charters may have, he said. Second, while Proposition 39 helps charters access facilities, it doesn’t help those charters finance the buildings.

In some California districts, such as San Diego and Los Angeles, charters have responded to that challenge by working with districts to be included in local bond measures, said Mr. Soto.

Miles Durfee, the Southern California managing regional director for the California Charter Schools Association, is helping oversee the distribution of funds to charters from a facilities bond passed in the San Diego school district last November.

"We absolutely would like to see this model explode or become bigger as we look through different local bonds,” he said. “The political nexus occurs when the voters vote for the bond. They want to vote for all students, and they have kids at charter schools."

Vol. 32, Issue 37, Page 16

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