Mike Klein Online

State Charter Schools Seem Poised to Receive Funding Boost

Mike Klein

Georgia could become a more attractive location for charter schools Thursday after the state Charter Schools Commission board votes on a proposal to increase state per pupil funding by 80% from $3,200 to $5,800 per year. Georgia’s current reimbursement rate is among the lowest nationwide; the new rate would move the state toward the middle.

Full-time online school charter funding fluctuates nationally. This month Louisiana approved $7,000 per pupil for two new charter schools.  Pennsylvania has paid up to $8,100 per pupil and South Carolina joins Georgia on the low end at $3,300 per pupil. Eleven states provide between $5,000 and $7,500 in per pupil reimbursement, according to a Georgia Cyber Academy national analysis.

There is a definite air of optimism that Georgia is about to move forward with a compromise that would be financially acceptable to charter school operators and state government budget and education policy makers who have struggled with this issue for nearly three years.

“We’re thrilled,” said Mickey Revenaugh, co-founder and senior vice president of Connections Academy, a national provider of online learning resources. Connections Academy is one of 17 charter school providers with an application to open a new 2011 year charter school in Georgia.  The board will also vote on those applications when it meets Thursday.

“I anticipate that tomorrow we will have a real decision on the funding level,” Charter Schools Commission executive director Mark Peevy told the Public Policy Foundation on Wednesday. “I want folks to understand we didn’t pick a number out of the air. We didn’t decide arbitrarily. We did have a process. We looked at a lot of data. We had a lot of collaboration.”

Georgia Charter Schools Association chief programming officer Andrew Lewis said the $5,800 level is “a reasonable compromise. I was hoping to see something between $6,000 to $6,500 so at $5,800, while it is maybe a little bit short, this is a very good jumping off place.”

The Georgia Charter Schools Commission was established by the 2008 General Assembly. The commission operates inside the state Department of Education. It can authorize new schools and direct state funds to charter schools even when local boards of education denied charter applications.

Two disputes arose almost immediately and continue today. Seven school districts sued to have the Charter Schools Commission be declared unconstitutional and to deny its authority to reallocate education dollars when students leave traditional local public schools for public charter schools.

The challenge by Atlanta, Gwinnett, DeKalb and four smaller school systems was denied by a Fulton County trial court judge in May. The districts appealed to the state Supreme Court. Oral arguments were heard in October and a ruling is expected soon, meaning weeks or months.

Discussion about funding levels has percolated since the start but it boiled over in June when two charter school operators withdrew from Georgia after their applications were approved. Both national education companies said they could not operate at $3,500 per pupil reimbursement.

This triggered an internal review that began, charter schools commission executive director Peevy said, with recognition that “virtual schooling can be delivered in a number of different ways. There is not a single sole example of what a virtual school budget should look like.” Fiscal and policy analysts from throughout state government were asked to compare individual charter school budgets.

Then the commission sought national perspective from the International Association of K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) which recommends that charter schools should be reimbursed at 65% of the traditional brick and mortar pupil rate. Peevy said the $5,800 proposed rate that will be considered Thursday is approximately 65% of Georgia’s $8,800 per pupil cost.

This year Georgia has 2,400 pupils enrolled in eight state charter commission public schools. Seven offer K-8 curriculum; Charter Conservatory in Statesboro also offers high school courses.

Mickey Revenaugh

Connections Academy has been working on a Georgia charter schools strategy for eight years. Revenaugh said the $5,800 number is “slightly on the skinny side of adequate but within range.” If approved on Thursday, a new Georgia Connections Academy would serve 500 students next fall, “a tiny drop in the bucket to the number who are interested,” said Revenaugh, who also is an iNACOL national board member. Connections Academy would have an Atlanta-area office.

Kaplan Academy of Georgia and Provost Academy are the two schools that triggered the review when they backed out in June.  Both have told Peevy they might be back if funding improves.  “I certainly anticipate both of them will want to move forward,” he said, “but I don’t have a guarantee.”

Thursday’s 10:00am meeting will be held in the state Department of Education board room at the Twin Towers government office building across from the State Capitol in downtown Atlanta. The meeting is open to the public.

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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December 15, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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