Saturday the AJC’s Maureen Downey posted a letter from Herb Garrett head of the Georgia School Superintendent’s Association. The letter warned that should voters approve a Constitutional Amendment allowing the State to approve valid applications for charter schools, these schools will receive several times the funding of traditional public schools. Downey says:
Given this funding disparity, though, it would make far more sense now for aspiring charter schools to seek state approval rather than local.
Of course traditional public schools do not live on State money alone. As every property owner in Georgia knows schools receive money in the form of property taxes. Many school systems also have ESPLOSTs. Thus, the average per student funding (full time equivalent or FTE) in Georgia is just short of $8600.00 Some systems spend more per FTE, some less. State charter schools will not be receiving more than the $8600 per FTE traditional public schools currently spend. Sen. Fran Millar, quoted in the article, points out the State will give State approved charter schools approximately 75% of what public schools spend per FTE, less austerity cuts (contrary to what Garrett claimed in his letter State charter schools have and will continue to receive austerity cuts). This puts per FTE funding for State approved charter schools in the low $6000 range. More than the State gives to traditional public schools per PTE but much less than the total of what is spent per student. Out of that money State charter schools will have to do everything to educate students traditional public schools must do without the additional revenue stream of local property taxes and without the power to put an ESPLOST on the ballot.
I’m not sure how Downey thinks it will be better for those seeking to form a charter school to “seek state approval rather than local.” The opposite is true, which is exactly what we want. We want charter applicants to work with their local school boards and we want local school boards to be receptive to quality charter applications. We want the same system we had before the Supreme Court tossed out HB881 which was working just fine. Local systems created over a hundred charter schools while HB881 was in effect. The State approved 16. That fact should put to rest the fear-mongering by opponents that State approved charter schools are going to pop up across Georgia like mushrooms after a rainstorm.
In addition to the inaccurate claim by Garrett that charter schools have not experienced austerity cuts, he very cleverly implies Governor Deal has ordered more cuts to school funding. In fact the AJC reports the school funding portions of DOE have not been asked to make budget cuts. I’ll let the reader decide his motive for omitting that piece of information.
Opponents of the charter amendment push the notion that Georgia is bleeding schools dry through lack of funding. To counter this claim I’ll point you to the July 27 “Friday Facts” from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation:
EduFact: It was reported this week that the state’s portion of total K-12 funding fell below 40 percent in 2010, down from 45 percent in 2007, despite significant efforts to protect education spending as much as possible during the recession. What does this mean for overall education spending? The table below (follow the link above to see the table – Buzz) shows that as of 2009 Georgia was still spending more per student than its neighboring states – and more than 20 other states. In order to adjust for costs of living differences, it’s helpful to measure spending as a percentage of state personal income. Using this measure, Georgia’s total K-12 spending ranks in the top 10. Total spending includes capital spending. Georgia’s 2009 capital spending per student was $1,640, 10th highest in the nation. If Georgia reduced construction spending to the level of a similar state like North Carolina, it could save more than $800 million a year. This is particularly worth examining as we continue furloughing teachers and as many school systems face daunting budget challenges.
Are we getting the bang for the buck we should be getting given we’re in the top 10 in spending? I think you know the answer. The status quo isn’t good enough folks. It’s time for change. The charter amendment is not a magic wand but it is a powerful tool we can use to improve the education our students receive.