New Hampshire received a record five-year, $46 million federal grant to expand its successful charter schools, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut announced Thursday. New Hampshire was one of only three states to receive 2019 grants from the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation & Improvement. The grant will cover professional development for charter school staff and board members, and spread best practices to public schools across New Hampshire. There will be $3.3 million available this year; the grant amount ramps up each year and reaches $15 million in 2023.
One of the biggest challenges to the continued expansion of charter schools is the fact that many charter school laws place the ultimate burden of obtaining and paying for facilities on charter schools themselves. This document provides a snapshot of the 31 jurisdictions that have enacted at least one of the following charter school facilities funding policies:
- Providing a per-pupil facilities allowance to charter schools (18 states)
- Creating a charter school facility grant program (15 states)
- Ensuring that charter schools have equal access to all existing state facilities programs and revenues for district-run public schools in a state (11 states)
- Providing a charter school facility loan program (14 states)
Providing charter schools with access to local property tax dollars generated for facilities (5 states)
Despite the charter school tax-exempt bond sector’s record volume for each year between 2012 and 2017, last year’s financing activity ended with a material decrease of 17.1%, at $3 billion, compared to 2017’s volume of just over $3.5 billion. For most market participants, this bond issuance trajectory reversal was expected due to the acceleration of deals that came to market in late 2017. The substantial 2017 increase in volume was primarily due to a reaction to congressional debate over tax reform that began in earnest in November and was driven by the fear of the loss of authority for private activity bonds (which ultimately did not occur) as well as advance refundings (which took effect on January 1, 2018). The extent of this sector’s 2018 decline, however, was not quite as pronounced as the overall tax-exempt market reduction of 21.6%—a nod to the continued high demand for affordable fixed-rate long-term charter school facility financing. Specifically, charter schools were responsible for 129 distinct transactions in calendar year 2018, totaling just shy of $3 billion of tax-exempt bond issuance. The range in par amount was extraordinarily wide this year—spanning from less than $2 million to over $350 million.
What is the fiscal impact of charter schools on California’s school districts? This is a simple question with no simple answer. Yet policymakers are ready to act… It’s clear this topic (and more misleading studies) will come up in more states soon. Journalists, editors, and editorial boards should take time to educate themselves on it so the public can separate fact from hyperbole and scare tactics. Districts do have a hard time adjusting when enrollment declines because of charter schools or other reasons. Charter schools, as we have argued, did not cause the problem, but they can be part of the solution. Misleading studies only deepen the divisions. Journalists can help bridge these divides by providing skeptical coverage and digging into the details.
How can it be that some studies find enrollment shifts to charter schools harm district finances, while others seldom find harm and often find benefits to students? The studies look at different outcomes, so it is possible that districts struggle financially but succeed in insulating students from harm. To sort out financial and achievement effects, we need coordinated studies in particular cities, analyzing the effects of charter growth on district finances and tracing these through school funding and instructional practices to effects on students. The question of effects of charter growth on district schools and students is important enough to warrant thorough and objective study: a sample of districts impacted by charter schools with careful review of financial challenges, district responses, consequences for school operations, and student results. But until such studies are done, people with different perspectives will remain in well-established warring camps.
Officials from Chicago Public Schools and most city charter school networks have agreed on a new formula setting the amount of taxpayer dollars that go from the district to each privately managed, publicly funded campus. The new formula returns the charters to the student-based budgeting model that district schools use, including a 2.5 percent increase that amounts to a funding boost of $19 million, according to CPS. CPS said the formula needed tweaking in the wake of the state’s new school funding formula, passed in 2017; the new formula is credited with greatly improving the perennially cash-strapped district’s financial footing. It also resulted in a windfall for charters, requiring districts to provide between 97 and 103 percent of per-capita tuition to charters, up from the 75 to 125 percent range previously required.
The Center on Reinventing Public Education released three briefs that shed light on the debate surrounding charter schools in California. In short, they conclude that Charter schools are not a major driver of recent enrollment declines in California’s school districts, there is no evidence that charter schools are to blame for school districts entering states of fiscal distress, and charter schools have, according to available evidence, important benefits for California communities and limited costs to the state.
Also see Afton’s five-part blog series “How Districts Can Afford High Quality Schools, Despite Enrollment Decline,” which offers actionable recommendations for school districts facing enrollment loss, with or without charter schools.
Several months ago Robin Lake critiqued a report by Dr. Gordon Lafer and published by In the Public Interest (ITPI)…the report continues to inform policy deliberations in California, where a commission is weighing charter school policy changes and lawmakers are considering a five-year moratorium on new charter schools. Lake outlines methodological concerns with the report which include (among others), the “fiscal impact” analysis’ focus on charter school growth, ignoring the many other causes of district enrollment loss, and the assumption that all students attending charter schools had transferred from a district school.
Multi-state analysis of charter school proposals and approvals reveals a diverse sector shaped by authorizers
A new report released today by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) offers a never-before-seen look at trends in charter school applications, approvals, and denials. The report, Reinvigorating the Pipeline: Insights into Proposed and Approved Charter Schools, reveals a diverse charter sector with a tremendous variety of applicants, educational models, and operator types, as well as the integral role authorizers play in shaping the public education landscape across the country. “More than three million students attend charter schools across the country, but up until now, we knew very little about who and what was being proposed,” said Greg Richmond, NACSA President and CEO. “The data reveals a much more diverse school pipeline than the charter sector is often credited for. We simply don’t see the homogenous sector driven by billionaires and for-profit schools that gets talked about so often.”
While last year’s teacher walkouts were focused primarily on stagnant wages and crumbling classrooms, the strike demands now are more far-reaching. Teachers are pushing back against education reform policies such as charter schools and performance-based pay. They’re also fighting for social-justice initiatives like sanctuary protections for undocumented students. Although some experts say there’s a risk of losing public support as teachers become more political in their demands, the strikes so far have retained community involvement and have all been relatively successful. Even as the protests move from red states to blue cities, there is still a coherent narrative in place: Teachers are underpaid, asked to do more with less, and fed up.