Being able to spend money free of bureaucratic red tape is one of the appeals of being a charter school.
But some charter operators are finding that going it alone on the business side can come at a steep price. Some have even found the financial side of running a school so tough that they’ve had to shut down.
To ease that strain, some of the independently run public schools have begun pooling their resources. One place that is happening is California, where the charter sector has grown to include more than 500 schools. There, a membership organization has rolled out a line of services aimed at helping charter schools overcome financial challenges not typically faced by their district-run counterparts.
Leaders of the California Charter Schools Association say they are trying to help with some of the functions performed for regular public schools by their districts, but with a difference.
“They don’t have to use us,” said Ted Fujimoto, the association’s vice president for school services and products. “We have to give them real value, or they’ll go somewhere else.”
The association now offers a range of insurance and workers’ compensation products. It also has a program called CharterBuy, which bills itself as “the purchasing office for California charter schools” and offers discounts on equipment and supplies.
In addition, the association has set up a short-term loan program to help schools pay their bills while they wait for reimbursement from the state.
Funding delays can pose particularly serious problems for schools that are growing quickly, because aid allotments are based on prior-year enrollments. For those schools, the association has set up a $10 million loan program that helps schools bridge the nine-month gap between when they enroll new students and when they get money for them.
Now that its new services are off the ground, the association is talking with charter school groups about offering them to schools in other states. More information is online at www.charterassociation.org.
A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2005 edition of Education Week