Saturday, April 15, 2017

California’s Failing Grade in Charter School Facilities Financing – Capital & Main

California’s Failing Grade in Charter School Facilities Financing – Capital & Main:

California’s Failing Grade in Charter School Facilities Financing

new study of public charter school funding has found that California’s explosive charter growth of the past 15 years has left school districts straining under a glut of new charter classrooms that are no better at educating California children than traditional public schools. Released Monday by the research and public advocacy group In the Public Interest (ITPI), Spending Blind reveals the extent to which tax dollars have been used to create privately held real estate empires — charter properties that, because they aren’t owned by the public, could, theoretically, one day be converted into luxury condominiums or shopping complexes.
Subtitled, The Failure of Policy Planning in California Charter School Funding, the report zeroes in on the costs and impacts of the $2.5 billion in charter school construction and rent subsidies that has been made available to prospective charter operators in a taxpayer-subsidized system of 10 state and federal public funding programs mostly administered by the California School Finance Authority (CSFA).
The report found that the facilities-funding programs had unintended effects, particularly that they
  • Incentivized adding classroom space to districts that didn’t need it.
  • Created charter schools that underperformed in comparison to their traditional public school neighbors.
  • Funded charters that in hundreds of cases were later found to have discriminatory enrollment policies.
  • Paid for privately owned real estate enterprises.
  • Enabled some of the state’s charter school scandals of last year.
The charter school industry relies upon a system of state and federal grants, loans, tax credits, and state and district bonds to pay for classroom space. Spending Blind represents the first time, its author, political economist Gordon Lafer, told Capital & Main, that this system has been subjected to the kind of cost-benefit questions that the public school side of the equation is typically required to answer.
“The most surprising discovery was just the total disconnect between the education policy goals of creating charter schools – [that] I think are still pretty much what people think is the point of charter schools – and how that money is spent,” said Lafer, who is also an associate professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center. “I expected that it would be like, you know, ‘We have these goals, we write the goals into funding.’ Instead, it was a total disconnect.”
Charter schools are financed with the same taxpayer dollars that pay for public schools, but are managed by private companies. Passed in the early 1990s, the state’s original charter law created the charter school of the popular imagination — a statutory zone of deregulation that allows boutique schools to develop superior curricula geared to persistently low-performing students.
But beginning in the late ’90s, a flurry of changes to the law included generous facilities subsidies that effectively opened the door to charter management organizations (CMOs) — scaled-up corporate franchises whose overall performance has roughly mirrored that of existing public schools. From having fewer than 200 charters in 1998, California now boasts 1,230 schools with 581,100 students, giving it the largest charter enrollment in the nation. The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) has vowed to nearly double that number by 2022.
In a prepared statement, CCSA brushed aside the report’s findings as an attempt to generate support for Senate Bill 808, a California’s Failing Grade in Charter School Facilities Financing – Capital & Main:

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