You may not have watched the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this week. It was about charter school management reform. Or was it? The speakers were from the charter sector and from school districts.
It was not until the last minute of a two hour session that you found out what really was at stake. A major battle is forming.
The Appropriations Committee hearing began with a presentation by Adam Miller, head of the DOE office of Independent Education and School Choice. He had an extensive slide show on charter schools including statistics on growth, achievement, closure rates etc.
- There are now 650 charters and 250,000 students.
- Approximately 22% of charter applications are approved by districts. A low percentage of charter students come from failing public schools.
- Forty-five percent of charters are managed by for-profit companies.
- Achievement gains for charters were reported to be generally higher than for public schools. There was a catch on that statistic. Mr. Miller’s data indicated that charters enrolled fewer students with disabilities and fewer students from low income families. The DOE does not adjust its achievement data to match comparable groups of children. Thus, differences in achievement are no surprise.
During other presentations by district superintendents, questionable charter management practices emerged. The inability of districts to screen charter operators for past charter failures, fiscal mismanagement, or other qualifications was cited. Broward’s superintendent suggested that charters provide surety bonds or lines of credit to ensure financial solvency.
Charters make decisions to improve profitability and achievement scores. Problems with charters that adopted district school Codes of Conduct but then did not follow them were mentioned. Jonathan Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA mentioned that students in poverty are more expensive to teach and are under represented in charters.
Charter representatives reported their need for more facility funding. One charter opened with no building; the school location moved from week to week. Another opened with the address of a local museum. The Duval County KIPP charter representative stated that facility costs deter high quality charter companies like theirs from coming to Florida. In other states, KIPP schools are public school conversions, thus they pay no rent or maintenance. Gary Chartrand, Chair of the Florida State Board of Education, donated millions of dollars to KIPP to bring those schools to Jacksonville.
Addressing the charter facility cost issue without making it impossible for public schools to pay their own facility costs is the issue. Capital outlay money for districts goes to pay debt service and technology upgrades. If charters receive more funding for capital outlay, public schools have difficulty paying their own costs.
No one mentioned that Minnesota and some other states prohibit for-profit management companies. Minnesota also does not allow charters to own their facilities, if public money finances them. Instead, Minnesota owns the buildings or pays a lease. The state has guidelines for square footage facility costs to control payment amounts.
Many of the problems could be corrected if charters were limited to meet specific needs and were held to higher levels of oversight. Senator Montford’s bills SB 1036 and 1038 would solve the majority of the mismanagement concerns.
At the close of the hearing, Senator Lee dropped a bomb shell. As Debbie Rumberger, the League’s lobbyist explained: The ENTIRE SENATE is refusing to begin the appropriations process (for Any part of the budget) until the House and the Governor determine a real budget proposal based upon their refusal to address the loss of federal LIPP (lower income pool program funding – $1.2 B) for public hospital reimbursement costs that will be cut off in June. The LIPP was intended to be unnecessary once Medicaid expansion was implemented. It is a powerful move. A showdown of sorts.