Thursday, June 18, 2015

RI School Districts Lose Millions to Charter Schools - GoLocalProv

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RI School Districts Lose Millions to Charter Schools

School districts are losing millions in much-needed funds in inflated tuition payments to charter schools, according to a GoLocalProv analysis of data contained in a report from a legislative panel on the education funding formula.

Under the new formula, which was adopted in 2010, the cost of educating a child should follow him or her to a charter school, leaving no impact on districts. “What does not follow is all the expenses associated with the school district,” said state Rep. Jeremiah O’Grady, a Lincoln Democrat who chaired the panel.
Flawed assumption in funding formula
Frank Flynn, the president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals and a panel member, offers the example of a classroom where just one or two students might leave. The money follows those one or two students to the charter school they have chosen, but the district still has to pay the full salaries and benefits of the teacher for that classroom—now without the money that went to the charters for those two students.  
There are also other costs that are mandated for districts but not charters, such as the transition programs for special education students aged 18 to 21, pension payments, and early childhood programs, according to Flynn.
“So there is definitely a discrepancy in the … funding formula that we believe needs to be addressed,” Flynn said.
Many school districts say they are losing money to charter schools because of such fixed costs that do not “follow” the child to the charter school. Seven districts provided data to the panel showing a total of $5.4 million lost in the last school year. (Those districts are: Burrillville, Chariho, Cumberland, Exeter-West Greenwich, Lincoln, North Kingstown, and South Kingstown.) 
The districts listed are those that were most affected, according to Tim Ryan, the executive director of the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association, which backs the findings of the report.

In fact, a GoLocalProv analysis for all school districts suggests that the total may be at least three times that. (See below slides.)
Cumberland official: school districts being defunded
And those costs are rising fast, according to Phil Thornton, the schools superintendent in Cumberland.
In 2008, the charter school tuition bill from charter schools to Cumberland was $125,000. In 2015 it is an estimated $3.2 million. In 24 months it will hit $4 million, according to Thornton. “We have increased costs each year and largely have the same student population,” Thornton said.
The disparity becomes apparent when viewed in terms of state aid.
“Cumberland’s state aid for next year will increase by $952,596. Of that amount, Cumberland will pay out an additional $832,147 to charter schools—for approximately 445 students. The 4,600 Cumberland School District students will receive just $120,000 in state aid. So each charter school student will receive $1,869 in new state aid and each Cumberland School District student will see $26,” Thornton said.
“If we want choice in RI, we need to fund choice. Our current system is simply defunding existing school districts for the creation of new charter districts,” Thornton said.

Providence could lose millions
Some districts are only beginning to feel the impact. In Providence, the opening of Achievement First was expected to cost the district $1.8 million in the current fiscal year, according to a December 2011 forecast prepared by Internal Auditor Matt Clarkin.
By 2018, Providence is projected to be losing as much as $9.2 million in funding to Achievement First, according to Clarkin’s analysis.
One glaring disparity is in special education.
Under the current education funding formula, expenditures are divided by the number of students to get a per-pupil figure. That figure is the tuition amount paid out to any charter schools that students who reside within the district are attending. But school districts have special education mandates that charters do not. They also have a higher percentage of special education students—and those students tend to have more severe disabilities than students with learning disabilities at charters, according to Flynn.
As a result, the special education share of per pupil expenditures is higher in school districts than it is for charters.
For example, the average per-pupil cost of special GoLocalProv | RI School Districts Lose Millions to Charter Schools: