Michigan’s present system of public-school funding may have made sense when families settled in communities anchored by a General Motors plant and rarely strayed far from the neighborhood school their children attended. But that system is archaic today. GM no longer drives the state economy. The unemployment rate hovers around 8.5 percent. Most families move to different neighborhoods, and different schools—or out of Michigan entirely—as needs and circumstances change. And Michgan’s neighborhood schools now compete with more than 250 public charter schools.
Michigan’s present system of public-school funding no longer makes sense.
This is the context in which Governor Rick Snyder has proposed a new way of funding education in the Wolverine State. He would bury the State School Aid Act of 1979, which funds districts and schools based on their total enrollments, and establish a system of funding that instead follows the child.
Snyder has charged a prominent Michigan attorney named Richard McLellan with finding a constitutionally sound way of creating a cost-efficient and transparent system of funding that allows for more public-school choice. This is well-timed, even urgent, considering that revenues for the state School Aid Fund have fallen 6.5 percent over the last few years, forcing legislators to chip away at a clunky and antiquated system of school finance without solving its underlying problems (or closing the spending gap between district and charter schools).
To nobody’s surprise, however, Snyder’s plan has already met with the resistance of adult
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
Maybe now’s not the time for charter schools in Florida to ask for parity in funding, but it’s unlikely that a move to seek local revenues from school districts would be welcome in even the best of times.
The passions stirred by a legislative effort in the Sunshine State to direct local tax revenues to charter schools show just how hard it is for charters to find equity in school systems that rely on property taxes to fund most of their needs. A Florida senate bill would make it mandatory for districts to share as much as $140 million in local tax revenues with charters on a per-pupil basis for construction and renovation. State law currently allows districts to voluntarily share that money. Not surprisingly, few volunteer.
A senate education committee passed the bill recently along party lines, and the reaction from school districts and newspaper editorial boards was apoplectic. “Wait. Rewind,” read the Orlando Sentinel editorial page. “Didn’t charter school prophets pledge to do more with less? Wasn’t less regulation supposed to deliver greater efficiency?”
The charter school must pledge to do more while others determine how much less it’ll get.
Yet it’s the charter school that must pledge to do more while others determine how much less it’ll get. A report released last week from Florida TaxWatch, an independent think tank and government watchdog, found that the state’s 517 charter schools perform their work with about 70 cents on every public school dollar. Some charters are able to access the state capital outlays that districts receive
As if the teachers unions need another reason to hate charter schools, here's one: The finding, from a new Fordham Institute report, that when given a chance to opt out of state pension systems, many charter schools take it. Furthermore, a fair number of these charters replace traditional pensions with nothing at all.
Why is this such a big deal? It's not just that unions will worry that charter schools are mistreating their teachers. More fundamentally, if charter schools continue to multiply, and they are allowed to opt out of state retirement systems, those systems will collapse under their own weight--an outcome the unions will fight to the death.
First some background. The new Fordham study, by Michael Podgursky and Amanda Olberg, examines six large states where charters are allowed to opt out of the traditional pension system. In a few of these states, including California and Louisiana, most charters stay in the system. (That's largely because teachers in those states don't participate in Social Security; see the report for an explanation about that.) But in other states, including Arizona and Florida, most charters bolt. Typically they offer a 401(k) or 403(b) instead, but almost one-quarter offer either no pension or a plan without an employer match.
On this latter point, Rick Kahlenberg of the Century Fund hit the charter movement hard. In a
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
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