The entire point of the charterschool movement is to give parents and students additional choices beyond not-quite-one-size-fits-all district campuses and expensive, fewand-far-between private schools.
So, fresh from his re-election, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has come out of the gate with a plan to pump $78.5 million in state funding into charter schools to make them more like their district-run counterparts.
This would be a 15 percent increase in the state’s spending on nearly 500 charter schools when it already spends an average of almost $300 per charter pupil more than district students, according to the study Horne is using to justify his proposal.
This money is to compensate charters for the ability districts have to pay for construction and other capital projects by seeking bond-package approval from local voters, along with additional federal dollars.
But as Tribune reporter Ryan Gabrielson wrote for Monday’s paper, the charter-school movement from the beginning has held out the promise of a better education for children at a better value for taxpayers.
Arizona Charter School Association lobbyist Tom Dorn noted that real estate and construction costs have soared in the past decade, but charters have been coping with the realities of the (currently cooling) real estate market from the beginning, filling up many an aging strip mall, providing options for those who didn’t care whether a school looks like a conventional district campus.
Charter proponents feel a lack of competition for district schools has created an environment that enabled subpar academic results and fiscal waste, and a parallel system based on a different model would be worth the trade off of less stability.
That was more of an issue in the early years of the movement, as both for-profit and nonprofit providers searched for a business model that worked, albeit with the state money that allowed them to continue to provide the classes for free. Some students, unfortunately, just found themselves locked out out of their schools one day, but the scene appears to have stabilized, for the most part.
So “equalizing” charter school funding by dumping tens of millions of additional state funding seems contrary to every argument made to justify the schools’ existence, fostering dependence on additional tax money that administrators will soon be as used to spending as their school district counterparts already are.
And the money may not always be there. Horne said the $78.5 million should come out of the existing General Fund rather than any new taxes, an idea that’s plausible when the state is churning out billion-dollar surpluses but could quickly become as outdated as the green slate chalkboard.
Most other states seem to understand this, judging from the profiles posted by the Education Commission for the States on its Web site (www.ecs.org). A few states, most notably Florida, do appropriate money on a per-student basis to assist charters with campus construction. Most, including Arizona, find other ways to help these schools out, through revolving loan funds, requiring the publication of lists of available space within school districts, and other means.
We back the school choice movement, and increasing the state’s involvement in funding charter schools would only serve to blur the lines between educational options that families are being offered.