A welcome plea for fair funding

Now that charter school enrollment has grown to include more than a half-million public school students in the South, the Southern Regional Education Board wants to make sure that state laws are addressing “meaningful measures of academic performance.” But among the calls for higher standards and rigorous oversight in the board’s newest report comes a welcome plea for a fair system of funding for charters.

The Southern Regional Education Board's newest report includes a welcome plea for a fair system of funding for charters.

“Because states have not yet adequately addressed funding disparities between charter schools and traditional public schools, policy-makers need to address this issue if they want viable charter schools in their states,” the board writes in its report, Charter Schools in SREB States: Critical Questions and Next Steps for States.

This isn’t the first foundation in the South to highlight these funding inequities (a government watchdog in Florida recently found that charters in the state run on seventy cents of the public school dollar) but it adds another layer to a conversation that has gone better in some states than it has in others.

The Florida Legislature, for instance, ended its recent session this spring without passing a bill that would have directed $140 million in local tax revenue to charter school building and renovations. Its Republican sponsor in the Senate said that “all public school kids” should get “their fair share of things they need,” but superintendents, school boards, and newspaper editorial pages were apoplectic in their response. “Didn’t charter school prophets pledge to do more with less?” asked the Orlando Sentinel.

SREB, however, understands that measuring outcomes between charter schools and district schools is an incomplete, and unfair, task without addressing shortfalls in both operational funding and facility funding at charters. While the consortium says little about the lack of local funding, my Fordham colleagues once identified that these disparities worsen in states that rely more on local sources of funding to bankroll public schools. And a team of researchers at Ball State University in 2010 found that charter schools in only fifteen states had access to local funds.

“If, under a duly enacted state policy, families choose to send their children to public charter schools, it’s only fair for all of their funding to ‘follow’ them there,” Fordham argued in 2005. “Any other policy treats some public school students differently from others and is thus unfair.”

Today’s observations are nearly the same. What is changing is that more public school advocacy groups like SREB are talking about it. Its member states could benefit from a more robust analysis of the types and causes of these funding disparities, but this newest statement does help to cool the rhetoric that inflames the debate in states like Florida.

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