“Charter schools funding hot issue”
by Marquita Brown
Jackson Clarion Ledger
February 29, 2012
As state lawmakers work to relax requirements for opening charter schools in Mississippi, the unanswered question is can the state afford both or will it leave both underfunded.
Today, the House Education Committee will take up House Bill 888, which includes broader allowances for charter schools. Last week, the Senate passed SB 2401 that would allow charter schools in every Mississippi school district with some restrictions.
If a district has enough demand for a charter school, the state and local dollars should follow the child, said John Moore, chairman of the House Education Committee and principal author of HB 888.
The problem with the argument that scarce resources would be spread over a larger group of students is “you’re not increasing the number of kids,” said Moore, R-Brandon.
Critics of those groups are no longer in a fixed group. Most charter schools cap their enrollment, meaning some students who might have wanted to attend the new school can’t and would likely remain in traditional public schools, which would then be operating with less money.
“Mississippi has very scarce resources. We can’t afford to fund schools at the level that most people would acknowledge they need to be funded,” said Nancy Loome, executive director of the Parents’ Campaign. That’s also true for other public service agencies, she said.
Loome, who heads a network of more than 60,000 people, said she has heard from parents of students in home schools and in private schools who are interested in charter schools. Adding more students to the mix leads to less funding for all students and a less efficient use of resources, she said.
Superintendents of traditional public schools have said they increased class sizes, postponed building maintenance, made due with outdated textbooks, cut central office staff and, in some cases laid off teachers, because of cuts in state funding. Many have said additional cuts would force additional layoffs, which could include teachers.
There should be an analysis of what impact pulling students from school districts may have “on the resources left behind for the children who will remain in the public schools,” said Oleta Fitzgerald, Southern regional director for the Children’s Defense Fund.
Not requiring or discussing “a fiscal impact analysis in Mississippi just does not seem to be reasonable,” she said, “especially for people who pride themselves on fiscal responsibility.”
The bills should require no additional appropriations because “there is no money for new buildings that would be provided by the state,” said Forest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. Charter schools would have money donated to help with the costs of building or renting buildings and would not have access to bond issue money or other facilities dollars available to traditional public schools, he said.
“If a school is educating children well, then they should have nothing to fear from charter schools. If they are not educating children, then there is no reason that they should continue to expect to receive money from taxpayers,” Thigpen said.
Nationally, charter schools’ impact on traditional public schools’ funding has been mixed.
“The specifics of the policy in your state matter a lot,” said Macke Raymond, director of Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes.
“In some cases across the country, charter schools didn’t impact the local public school budget at all because there was a hold harmless provision so that the districts continue to receive the same budgetary amounts regardless of how many students they lost to a charter school,” Raymond said.
Addressing funding equity requires a different view than charter schools versus traditional public ones, she said. Instead, Raymond said, the view should be that public schools, including public charters, need full funding.
Legislators tend to make a common mistake of “trying to be all things for all people,” said Jeanne Allen, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform. They try to push for charter schools, but not full funding, and expect those schools to take on the most disadvantaged students anyway, she said.
“It’s not money alone, it’s having freedom to spend the money,” Allen said. “But it’s also being treated equitably, so there’s a level playing field between traditional public schools and public charter schools.”
Moore said today’s meeting will likely focus on HB 888. The House charter bill has to clear the committee by Tuesday and then be voted on by the full House.
He expects a charter school bill to go to Gov. Phil Bryant, a charter school supporter, in late spring.