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Georgia Charter School Kids: Boxed Into a Smaller Box

Mike Klein

MACON – Georgia children who attend charter public schools are typically boxed into smaller facilities that have inadequate library, science, art, music, cafeteria and physical education resources compared to traditional public schools.  That is the conclusion of a six-month study released last week during the Georgia Charter Schools Association ninth annual conference.

“Charter schools are in a facilities crisis,” GCSA President and CEO Tony Roberts told the Public Policy Foundation.  “The only way to alleviate that is for them to receive per pupil funding for facilities so they can afford to lease or buy facilities.”  Georgia start-up charter public schools do not receive facilities funds. Traditional public schools receive facility funds by several means.

Georgia instituted competitive public schools facilities funding 11 years ago and by law charter schools are eligible for E-SPLOST – education special local option sales tax – dollars but GCSA’s report said, “…the dividends from these programs have, thus far, been very limited.”

The GCSA report – “Shortchanged Charters: How Funding Disparities Hurt Georgia’s Charter Schools” – was scheduled for release in May but a decision was made to hold the report when the state Supreme Court declared the charter schools commission was unconstitutional.

The report was compiled by GCSA in partnership with the Colorado League of Charter Schools and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  Thirty-seven independent start-up charter schools participated in research conducted between October and December of last year.

“We sent people on site so it wasn’t just a fill in the blanks thing,” Roberts said.  “We measured the size of the rooms. We saw if they had gyms or physical education facilities.  We were able to see if they had a cafeteria or not, how the children were eating if there was no food facility.”

The main finding concludes, “Charter schools are the only public schools in the state of Georgia forced to spend operating revenue on facilities.”  GCSA said, “Only 17 percent of state grant funding requested by charter schools was awarded for fiscal years 2008 through 2010.”   Just one among 37 charter schools said it had received E-SPLOST funds to assist with facilities.

Disparity was especially evident in cafeteria and physical education resources.  GCSA said 46 percent of Georgia charter school students qualify for free and reduced priced meals served at school, but just 38.9 percent of schools have proper facilities that meet federal standards.  Fifty-eight percent of charters said the school lunchroom does double duty as a gymnasium.

State law requires that public school districts should make unused facilities available to charter schools.  GCSA said, “…only 25 percent of charter schools have been able to gain access to unused space.  Of the remaining schools, one-third report unused district facilities nearby.  While the majority of these charter schools have asked permission to access unused district facilities, not one request has been granted to date.”

The report stated, “Families who choose to attend the public school that best fits their children’s educational needs should not have to do so at the expense of opportunities for participating in athletics, art, music or other programs that provide students with a well-rounded education.”

GCSA will use the report to foster consensus to fund charter school facilities with dedicated dollars that are not part of annual operating budgets.  Georgia had 74,000 charter school students last year.  That is about four percent of the statewide K-12 public school enrollment.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

October 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After Supreme Court: “How We Answer Will Define Us For Generations”

Mike Klein

Georgia became the national battleground over charter public schools alternative authorization last month when the state Supreme Court ruled the three-year-old charter schools commission is unconstitutional.  So it was not surprising that there very pointed references to that decision Tuesday when the 2011 National Charters School Conference opened in Atlanta.

“Fifteen thousand students have been left in limbo by a dreadful decision from the Georgia Supreme Court,” said National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Peter Groff.  “How we answer will define us for generations.”  Groff invoked the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he called for a “next generation of high quality schools fueled by technology.”

Moments earlier, and not entirely in jest, Georgia Charter Schools Association President Tony Roberts welcomed some 4,000 conference goers to “Georgia where anyone can grow up to be a state Supreme Court justice even if you cannot read the state Constitution.”

President Bill Clinton

Charter school educators have come from across the nation to discuss alternative authorization, digital learning applications, crisis message management, how to start and fund schools, learning accountability and literally dozens of other educationally relevant topics.

During a 45-minute address former President Bill Clinton told charter educators to “put our country back in the future business” after accepting the NAPCS inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.  Clinton described the current “food fight” in most contemporary political dialogue.  Click here for additional coverage of the former President’s address.

Tuesday’s opening session included two of the charter schools world genuine superstars, New York City educator Eva Moskowitz and Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker.

“I understood a long time ago that schools and politics are inextricably linked,” said Moskowitz who opened the first Harlem Success Academy five years ago in New York City.  “Our schools are knocking the ball out of the park which now means we are considered a threat, not only to public schools, but to the political establishment.”

Eva Moskowitz, Harlem Success Academy

The Harlem Success Academy story was chronicled in two charter school movement films, “The Lottery” and “Waiting for Superman.”  Moskowitz encountered stiff opposition from the New York City teachers union and also some community groups.  Two years ago the New York Times cited Harlem Success Academy as #1 in math statewide among all 3,500 public schools.  Six more Success Academies have followed in just five years, with plans to open 40 more.

“We are tasked with building a better mousetrap, introducing innovation to a sector that has long resisted it,” Moskowitz said. “I believe we are on the cusp of a golden era in education.  I raise the question, what is possible for our children?  I don’t know but it is our job to find out.  We must innovate every day.  We must resist the temptation to do things the same way they have always been done and we must question our own perception of what is possible.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker is well known for creating a partnership with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who contributed $100 million to improve Newark student success and champion great teachers.  Booker is energy unleashed; his magnetism compels attention.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker

“We are in the most important fight for justice in generations,” Booker said.  “Audacity, audacity, always audacity.  We have underestimated the profound genius, the ability of our children.  We have become comfortable with failure and it is time for a wake-up call.  We are here to disturb the comfortable.  We were not born for mediocrity.  We were born to stand out.”

Booker issued fair warning to underperforming schools:  “We cannot accept mediocrity or failure in the charter movement.  I don’t care how a school came into existence.  I distinguish between schools of excellence, and I distinguish between schools that suck.  If that school happens to be a charter school then that school should either improve or move out of the way and let somebody else do the job.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman will speak Wednesday.  Duncan’s address will be by satellite from Washington.  The conference ends Thursday with a rally at the State Capitol, across from the Supreme Court.  Click here to learn more about the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment