MACON – Georgia children who attend charter public schools are typically boxed into smaller facilities that have inadequate library, science, art, music, cafeteria and physical education resources compared to traditional public schools. That is the conclusion of a six-month study highlighted last week during the Georgia Charter Schools Association ninth annual conference.
“Charter schools are in a facilities crisis,” GCSA President and CEO Tony Roberts told the Public Policy Foundation. “The only way to alleviate that is for them to receive per pupil funding for facilities so they can afford to lease or buy facilities.” Georgia start-up charter public schools do not receive facilities funds. Traditional public schools receive facility funds by several means.
Georgia instituted competitive public schools facilities funding 11 years ago and by law charter schools are eligible for E-SPLOST – education special local option sales tax – dollars but GCSA’s report said, “…the dividends from these programs have, thus far, been very limited.”
“Shortchanged Charters: How Funding Disparities Hurt Georgia’s Charter Schools” was scheduled for release in May but a decision was made to hold the report when the state Supreme Court declared the charter schools commission was unconstitutional.
The report was compiled by GCSA in partnership with the Colorado League of Charter Schools and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Thirty-seven independent start-up charter schools participated in research conducted between October and December of last year.
“We sent people on site so it wasn’t just a fill in the blanks thing,” Roberts said. “We measured the size of the rooms. We saw if they had gyms or physical education facilities. We were able to see if they had a cafeteria or not, how the children were eating if there was no food facility.”
The main finding concludes, “Charter schools are the only public schools in the state of Georgia forced to spend operating revenue on facilities.” GCSA said, “Only 17 percent of state grant funding requested by charter schools was awarded for fiscal years 2008 through 2010.” Just one among 37 charter schools said it had received E-SPLOST funds to assist with facilities.
Disparity was evident in cafeteria and physical education resources. GCSA said 46 percent of Georgia charter school students qualify for free and reduced priced meals served at school, but just 38.9 percent of schools have proper facilities that meet federal standards. Fifty-eight percent of charters said the school lunchroom does double duty as a gymnasium.
State law requires that public school districts should make unused facilities available to charter schools. GCSA said, “…only 25 percent of charter schools have been able to gain access to unused space. Of the remaining schools, one-third report unused district facilities nearby. While the majority of these charter schools have asked permission to access unused district facilities, not one request has been granted to date.”
The Association report stated, “Families who choose to attend the public school that best fits their children’s educational needs should not have to do so at the expense of opportunities for participating in athletics, art, music or other programs that provide students with a well-rounded education.”
GCSA will use the report to foster consensus to fund charter school facilities with dedicated dollars that are not part of annual operating budgets. Georgia had 72,000 charter school students last year. That is about four percent of the statewide K-12 public school enrollment.
I wanted to publicly say how much I appreciate Georgia Public Policy Foundation. For those of you that will be entering the Legislature or are relatively new you may not quite yet appreciate how much we rely on Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s research and work. As you know we’re a citizen’s legislature. We have very little staff. They have been an invaluable, invaluable resource to us. To put this [Forum] on and the regular programs that they do throughout the year make us better at what we do. (At the 2012 Georgia Legislative Policy Forum.)