A rural school chief sent me this note late Friday:
I am forwarding to you an email from Herb Garrett at the Georgia School Superintendent’s Association that was sent out today to all Georgia superintendents. Herb explains the financial impact of laws already passed regarding charter schools and the differences in funding between those students and the ones attending traditional public schools. Herb clearly quotes GADOE as the source for the financial projections.
Can you find out if this information is accurate? I have the utmost trust and faith in Herb Garrett but I am astonished that our Governor and legislators would clearly gut public education in Georgia to this extent. As a small rural system, we are doing everything we can to stay afloat despite the continuing cuts. But, if the GADOE’s calculations are correct, the Legislature is obviously funding charter schools more favorably than traditional public schools. How can this happen?
Friday evening, I asked DOE spokesman Matt Cardoza to read Garrett’s letter and tell me whether he was correct that state charter schools — of which there will be a lot more if voters endorse a constitutional amendment on the November ballot — will earn more state funding under a law passed this year.
Cardoza promised to get with DOE experts over the weekend and get back to me. I received this response Saturday at noon: “I’ve confirmed that those numbers are correct. Our financial review team ran the numbers based on what the legislation says.”
I also asked DeKalb Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, for comment yesterday but he wanted to see what DOE had to say about Garrett’s calculations. He did say, “It was my understanding that the charter schools ended up with about 75 percent of what the traditional public schools received. I am opposed to the new charter systems receiving $100 per child. We can’t afford it and it is time to discontinue the practice.”
(Systems that convert to charter school status get extra funding for reasons still unclear to me.)
As to the rural school chief’s other question — How can this happen at a time when the state is cutting school funding to the bone? — I will let you all offer responses to that.
Given this funding disparity, though, it would make far more sense now for aspiring charter schools to seek state approval rather than local. However, the underlying problem remains that school funding in Georgia is a mess, rife with inconsistencies that the school finance task force, of which Millar is co-chair, must address.
Here is Herb Garrett’s email:
Ladies and gentlemen:
I will devote the entirety of this Friday’s notes (Sorry, it’s a lengthy one!) to an explanation of the funding mechanism that was put into place by the 2012 Georgia General Assembly to fund state special charter schools. The Department of Education has now made the calculations as to just what this will cost, and you should know the results.
First, you should know that, regardless of the outcome of the November vote, this funding mechanism enacted as a result of the passage of HB797 will still be used to determine how much extra state money will be needed to support state special charter schools, and it is already in effect. The original HB797 contemplated the use of this procedure for commission charter schools formed in the future if the proposed constitutional amendment on November’s ballot is approved by voters (HB797 was passed, by the way, with only one, single, “after-thought” opportunity for public comment.). A Senate amendment to the bill sponsored by Senator Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone, was added (again, with no debate or discussion) which makes this funding procedure effective for the current state special charter schools (and, will require a significant outlay of additional state dollars in the upcoming mid-term budget). After Senate passage, the House agreed to the amended version.
I think the best way to make the point is to compare just how much state money our General Assembly plans to send to state special charter schools as compared to the amount they will send to local school systems to support the education of students in traditional K-12 schools. I’ll compare the amount for regular education fifth grade students. Here’s the scoop (based on DOE-calculated numbers):
For a fifth grader in a state special charter school, the initial amount granted is the full QBE earning for that child ($3,318.14) with no deduction for local five mill share. For a fifth grader in a traditional K-12 school, that amount, on average statewide (varies from system to system based on the value of the local five mill share within that system) is $2,695.71 (already a $600 difference).
That difference is further exacerbated by the austerity cuts that are applied to the earnings of local schools systems ($690.27 per student) but not applied to the earnings of state special charter schools. This latest reduction is mitigated somewhat for systems that receive equalization grants, but those grants do not come close to offsetting the austerity cuts in place for FY13 (or, in the eleven previous years).
Both the state special charter school students and the students in traditional K-12 schools earn state funds for transportation and for school nutrition (Both must offer these services to get the funds.), so let’s assume that both get the $95.85 total per student that comes with these two programs.
Now, at this point the fifth grader in a state special charter school begins to get even more state money than what is sent by the state for the fifth grader in a traditional K-12 school. The charter school student, as a result of the calculation mandated in HB797, gets additional state money equal to the average per pupil amount of the local funds available in the five poorest systems in the state (including the five mill share money already included once before in the first calculation, a clear “double dip”). That adds another $2,560.94 per student for the state special charter school student.
Then, and again as a result of the calculation mandated in HB797, still more state dollars are sent to support that fifth grader in a state special charter school based on capital outlay dollars. Amazingly, additional state funds are allotted based on the per pupil amount of state capital outlay funds PLUS a per pupil amount based on statewide ESPLOST revenues per FTE. This amount comes to $1,017.35 per student, and it is not at all clear that these funds have to be spent on capital projects, as would be the case in local systems.
So, if my calculations are correct (and, they are based on DOE numbers that were provided to me), the state will send approximately $2,101.29 in STATE DOLLARS to local school systems to support the education of a fifth grader in a traditional K-12 school. At the same time, beginning this Fall, they will send $6,992.28 in STATE DOLLARS per child to support the education of a fifth grader in a state special charter school. (NOTE: State special charter schools of the virtual variety receive 2/3 of the total of all components except the capital outlay and nutrition/transportation pieces, so the STATE DOLLARS going to support a fifth grader in that venue amount to $3,921.25.)
The figures are clear: The state will send to state special charter schools 2.5 times more STATE DOLLARS per child than they are sending to local systems (those that do not receive equalization grants); for students in state special virtual charter schools, it is 1.9 times more. By DOE’s calculations and according to the tenets of HB797, this will require that $26,839,637 in NEW STATE DOLLARS be included in the state budget (over and above the QBE earnings for charter school students AND over and above the $8.65 million already added to the budget to pay for state special charter schools) to fund the state special charter schools we already have. The figures are clear, but the message is even clearer: our General Assembly will gladly find and spend more money per child to educate students in state special charter schools than they will spend to educate the students in our traditional K-12 schools.
And, this message comes on a day when the headlines in the AJC announce that state agencies are being directed to find another $553 MILLION to cut between now and 2014!
One of the arguments all along has been that HB797 calls for no “local money” to be used to support state special charter schools, as was the case with the provisions of the former HB881 which created a shell game to capture the equivalent of local funds. Some have even gone so far as to describe the funding mechanism in HB797 as both “protection” and a “windfall” for local school systems. It is true that the old HB881 shell game is gone; but, the calculations described in the paragraphs above also prove quite clearly that, while local systems have suffered billions of dollars lost due to the now-infamous “austerity cuts,” there seems to be no hesitation on the part of our General Assembly to establish a separate school system which they will gladly fund through a state budget that, for more than ten years, has been unable to support its regular K-12 schools. Larger class sizes, teacher furloughs, and heavily- amended school calendars have been the result of those greatly reduced state dollars in recent years, and that trend appears likely to continue as a result of these kinds of funding decisions. I encourage you to know and be familiar with the fiscal impact of HB797.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog