Friday, February 1, 2019

Should Charter Schools Get More Money for Buildings? Depends...

A recent call by the Fordham Institute and national charter school proponents has called for Ohio charter school facilities funding to be boosted by nearly 400 percent to match what they actually spend on facilities. While that may sound outrageous, especially given how Ohio charter schools have been near the bottom in national performance comparisons, I'm (surprisingly, perhaps) sympathetic to the idea.

And I told NPR so yesterday.

With major caveats.

First of all, let's talk money. Currently, charters get $200 per student for facilities funding. Yet they spend $785 per pupil, according to Fordham. Which means, they argue, charters need more money.

I do find it curious that when school districts argue they're not being paid enough by the state to cover expenses, free market folks like Fordham call districts wasteful or slovenly inefficient. Yet no such calls here. Hmmm.

Anyway, I've always believed that ensuring charter schools don't have to go into the waiting arms of ne'er-do-well, for-profit charter school operators would be a strong change in policy. One of the major reasons schools pick for profits is because for profits have access to capital and buildings. However, the for profits then fleece the schools on rents.

Here's the problem, though. That charter facility funding comes out of Ohio Lottery money. Last I checked, we were told the lottery was supposed to save us from having more property taxes. Now the state is removing about $16.6 million a year -- instead of putting it into school districts, potentially reducing property taxes -- and giving it to charters for facilities. If they quadruple that, it would be about $50 million more removed form Lottery funds to give to charters.

I don't think that's what the voters approved when they adopted the Lottery.

See, this has been, is and (I fear) will continue to be the problem with the way Ohio has funded school choice programs. The state siphons off a few million here and a few million there that would otherwise have gone to the 90 percent of students whose families choose local public schools. And they give it to privately run schools that aren't nearly as transparent as local public school districts.

And they generally perform worse that the school districts to whom that money was originally designated.

All that invariably forces local property taxpayers to pass more and bigger levies.

So, I am all for charters getting more facilities money because I think it helps keep the bad operators out of the game. But not if it means the 90 percent of Ohio students who remain in local public schools have to rely on more levies for their educations, or go with fewer opportunities.

If the state really believes in school choice, put your money where your mouth is and fund it with separate money that isn't taken away from local public school districts. Stop forcing property taxpayers to subsidize these payments.

I would feel better about Fordham's advocacy here if they identified a new revenue stream or something else to pay for this expense. But I'm suspecting that they'll just ask for a 400 percent jump in their facilities funding through the Lottery, which will siphons off more money originally meant for school districts.

Fish or cut bait. It's really that simple.

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