Charter vs. traditional school funding: A formula for confusion
In a story Monday, I explored the perceived gap between the amount of per-pupil cash allocated to charters and the amount given to traditional schools. The story started with the question: Why, in the city schools budget, do charters receive $9,300 and traditional schools' $5,000.
For three days, I spoke and emailed with dozens of people--many of whom were grateful for my even attempting to sort it out--and poured through our archives to figure it out.
It all comes down to a formula. A very, complex formula derived from a simple request charters made six years ago.
It all started in 2005 when the first wave of charters led a hard-fought campaign that started with the state board of education and ended in Maryland's second-highest court.
Charter leaders believed that an innovative school was restrained by the traditional funding model. Charters wanted the total amount of money spent on each student in cash, rather than the traditional model of deducting central office costs before determining per-pupil allotments.
The state board granted charters the formula--with a few stipulations like paying 2 percent in administrative costs--along with more cash and flexibility.
In 2006, district leaders decided to fight the decision in court, arguing that the formula would end up shortchanging traditional schools. They lost the fight.
The final decision, ruling in favor of charters, was handed down by the Maryland Court of Appeals the month Alonso arrived in 2007--with a plan to open more charters, and a new formula for how the district could have "Fair Student Funding," in tying money to enrollment numbers.But, Alonso said that as charter enrollment continues to increase, "the present solution cannot hold," affirming the fears the district had six years ago.
Alonso wants to revisit the charter formula. He said that by design, the formula exempts charters from central office budget crunches, shifting the burden of flat revenues and increased costs to traditional schools.
Charter leaders resent the simplification of the allotments, and denounce the notion that their students receive more per-pupil funding.
While the same amount of money is spent on every student, charters see it in cash and traditional schools see it in services. The $9,300 and $5,000 reflect those differences, they say.
Of course, charters also have expenses that traditional schools don't. Though, some would argue that charters use a lot of district services that they don't 'pay for.
It seems that this debate has been brewing for some time. Now that it's boiled over, charter and district leaders have vowed to figure out the formula that will adequately fund all schools. School leaders and advocates say that whatever the solution, it has to result in fair funding for all.