How much is too much and when will we know?

How much will additional charter school seats cost the school system?  We don’t know.

How many additional charter seats will be added and at what point will their unknown funding formula become unsustainable?  We don’t know.

Does our school board have the power to manage charter expansion without contributing to the closure of neighborhood schools and a system-wide budget crisis?  According to the board chair, no.

In the midst of voting on charter school applications late into last night’s school board meeting, Board Chair Marnell Cooper told members it would be “illegal” to deny an application because of any potential adverse impact on city schools’ budget.

Earlier in the meeting, People for Public Schools re-presented our letter to the Board, with additional signers, urging the Board to deny charter applications while the charter funding formula is the subject of litigation and potential legislative action.

We wrote:

“Traditional school parents, community members, teachers and staff deserve to know the costs to their schools of the founding of a new charter school, a charter expansion, or a conversion of an existing traditional school to a public charter school – as well as the startup and incremental costs of any combination of these events. Everyone in the school system deserves to know how these fundamental shifts will affect our schools. The Board has a fiduciary responsibility to project the impact of new charter schools on surrounding schools and the school system as a whole.

“In light of current circumstances, it is impossible for the Board to meet that obligation. BCPSS is engaged in a lawsuit over charter school funding, and the acceptability of the funding formula the school system uses is in question. Not until the lawsuit is resolved and an equitable funding formula is affirmed should the school system seriously consider adding more charter schools or increasing the number of charter school seats.”

Speaking to the Board, we said:

“We appreciate the Public Charter Schools Policy:  Compliance Report Review that was presented to the Board at the last month’s meeting.  There were some important, but not surprising, details in the report, including that newly created charter schools serve a lower-than-average percentage of students eligible for free and reduced meals, and that traditional schools serve proportionally more high-needs students with disabilities.

“What seems to be missing from this review, however, is what we are asking for in the letter we submitted last month and which we resubmit today with additional signers.

“What is the impact of new charter school applications, conversion applications, and charter expansion applications on the enrollment and funding of existing neighborhood schools?

“The district conducted just such an analysis of the Montessori Public Charter School’s application for a Geographic Attendance Area waiver and found approval of their waiver request would threaten the very existence of Dallas Nicholas.

“The GAA waiver request was handled carefully by the school system, but on the basis of that individual situation.  It is not the only example of charter expansion threatening the existence of traditional schools – and it was a bellwether of a district-wide funding crisis we are creating for ourselves in the name of a “portfolio of schools.” ”

The Board denied three out of four charter applications, but on their merits, not out of any concern for sustainability or potential adverse impact on existing neighborhood schools.  The Board approved the Baltimore Curriculum Project’s application to convert Frederick Elementary School to charter status.   Frederick’s neighboring elementary school, Samuel Morse, is currently slated for closure.

Does Baltimore need a state-mandated cap on charter school expansion?

Yes.  In the meantime, City Schools should deny applications for new, expanding or converting charter schools pending the outcome of the charter lawsuit and an analysis of the economic and enrollment impacts of charter expansion.

Letter to the Baltimore City School Board RE: Charter Applications

People for Public Schools sent a signed version of this letter to the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners on June 10, 2016.

 

PPS_logo_BlackBox

 

RE: 2016 Charter School Applications for SY 2017-18 and SY 2018-19

Dear School Board Commissioners,

People for Public Schools (PPS) is an independent, grassroots advocacy organization formed in fall 2015 by Baltimore City Public Schools parents and supporters. We are concerned about the potential impact of the lawsuit filed by charter schools against the District. Representing the interests of nearly 400 Baltimore City parents, grandparents, teachers, and community members who are affiliated with more than 30 traditional, contract, and charter schools, we are advocates for fair and equitable funding for all schools and all students – no matter what type of school they attend.

In regard to the Board’s recent hearing on proposed charter school expansions and the Board’s upcoming vote on these proposals, we have one request: Do not approve any new charter schools, conversions, or expansions unless and until the Board and the school system can determine and demonstrate their potential impact – in individual cases and on the whole – on existing school budgets.

Traditional school parents, community members, teachers and staff deserve to know the costs to their schools of the founding of a new charter school, a charter expansion, or a conversion of an existing traditional school to a public charter school – as well as the startup and incremental costs of any combination of these events. Everyone in the school system deserves to know how these fundamental shifts will affect our schools. The Board has a fiduciary responsibility to project the impact of new charter schools on surrounding schools and the school system as a whole.

In light of current circumstances, it is impossible for the Board to meet that obligation. BCPSS is engaged in a lawsuit over charter school funding, and the acceptability of the funding formula the school system uses is in question. Not until the lawsuit is resolved and an equitable funding formula is affirmed should the school system seriously consider adding more charter schools or increasing the number of charter school seats.

Under the current charter funding formula, we know that any growth in the number of charter seats in Baltimore City will create additional burdens on traditional school budgets and the students those budgets support. During information sessions led by City Schools last fall to educate the public on its then recently introduced charter funding formula, City Schools staff noted that it would be impossible to fund every school in the system the way they fund charter schools; there is not enough money. By comparing sets of similarly sized traditional and charter schools, and looking at budgets of conversion charters before and after conversion, PPS can show that charter schools receive more funding than traditional schools. The disparity is clear where it counts most: in the ratios of students-to-staff and students-to-teachers.

Right now, rather than expand choice, an expansion of charter seats will increasingly place Baltimore City students in a two-tiered public education system – in which one is better funded at the expense of the other. We must not further exacerbate existing inequities by adding charter school seats without a proper assessment of their true costs.

Thank you for your leadership on this critical issue and your thoughtful consideration of this request.

Baltimore City Schools Faces $85M Budget Shortfall

On Wednesday, February 24, the Baltimore City Schools administration laid out the initial impact of the 2016-17 budget, and it’s not pretty: The bottom line is that the school system expects to be short about $85 million. Here’s why:

Revenue Down $28.5 Million

Declining enrollment and increased property wealth in Baltimore City – much of which does not provide general tax revenue to help fund our schools – means less money from the state and possibly less from the city itself.

Governor Hogan’s FY 2017 budget proposes a loss of $25.3 million in state education aid to City Schools. The school system seems to be budgeting based on a worst-case scenario to include a potential loss of $3.2 million from Mayor Rawlings-Blake and the City due to enrollment declines. While conservative budgeting may be a wise approach for the school system to take, the City has never reduced school funding based on an enrollment drop. They certainly shouldn’t consider it now. Given the increase in city wealth, our expectation is that rather than cut funds the city will add funds to City Schools – becoming part of the solution. For now, though, the school system is budgeting as if losses of state and city funding are real.

Expenses Up $56.4 Million

While we have less money and fewer students, expenses are still up:

  • Personnel costs are up $21 million, including $17 million just for health care.
  • City Schools’ portion of the 21st Century Schools investment (the $1 billion new City Schools construction program) requires an increase of $10 million this year, for a total of $30 million, as mandated by state law.
  • Facilities Maintenance funding is increasing by $3 million for FY2017. City Schools’ Comprehensive Maintenance Plan, which covers all schools in the district, requires an increase in maintenance funding by $3 million each year over the next six years.
  • Pension costs are up $7 million due to a shift in responsibility from the State to the school district.
  • Costs for students with disabilities will be up $8.6 million.
  • Required staffing in traditional schools (like principals) is up $6.8 million.

These increased costs add up to $56.4 million. Added to the $28.5 million in lower revenue, that’s about an $85 million shortfall for next year’s school system budget.

UPDATE: March 10, 2016

Advocates (including us!) went to Annapolis March 9 with the Baltimore Education Coalition to raise our voices for Baltimore City Schools. We learned that the Governor intended to submit a supplemental budget adding $12.7 million for education in Baltimore City to cover the loss of funding due to enrollment decline. Now it is up to our leaders in Baltimore City to make up the difference.

People for Public Schools Asks the School Board to Make Policy

This is what we said:

Dr. Thornton, Members of the Board, Principals, Students, and Other Supporters of City Schools:

 

We stand here today knowing that our school board is poised to set a precedent as to how to answer charter school requests for Geographic Attendance Area (or GAA) waivers. Authorized by the Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015, these waivers would allow certain charter schools that currently draw all their students from across Baltimore City to set aside a percentage of seats for students who live in a nearby zone. As People for Public Schools – an independent grassroots organization of parents and other supporters of Baltimore City Schools – we urge the School Board to deny these waivers until it has articulated a policy that takes into account the waiver’s impact not only on neighboring traditional schools but also on the system as a whole.

As parents of students in Baltimore City Schools, we believe that the promise of choice cannot come at the expense of fairness and the sustainability of public schooling in Baltimore City. When considering the value of granting a waiver written by charter school supporters in the interest of improving charter schools, the Board has a unique duty to consider what is in the best interest of all students – especially the 70,000 students in our traditional public schools.

The Board is the only entity that can do that job.

As you know, the system is currently facing significant cuts to state funding and a lawsuit brought by 9 charter operators who are demanding more funding from City Schools – despite the fact that charter schools already receive more per pupil than traditional schools do. Also hanging over traditional schools is the Board’s effort to “right size” the District. Schools in buildings that are “underutilized” are under threat of closure, and funding for the 21st Century School Building Plan depends on maintaining occupancy levels in schools designated for new construction. Any change that would exacerbate budget pressure on zoned traditional schools by sapping enrollment, needs to meet a standard of scrutiny that the Board has yet to set. This is especially important when we are talking about citywide charter schools with waiting lists that show citywide demand.
Until the Board articulates a policy for GAA waivers that is premised on the notion that the improvement of charter schools must be a positive-sum game for charter and traditional school students alike – we respectfully request that the Board say no. In the absence of such a policy, you have no basis for saying yes.

This is what the Board did:

The Board took a vote on a GAA waiver request from Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School. The charter school, which has a waiting list and testified that it has not been meeting its enrollment cap for “strategic” reasons, asked to pull up to 30% of its student body from Greenmount West, a neighborhood currently zoned for Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School.

The Board had heard from a staff member, a teacher, a grandparent, and the principal of Dallas Nicholas, and they watched a video that City Schools had produced about the school. The Board also learned from the Office of New Initiatives that the school is underenrolled and building utilization is under the threshold.

The Board rejected a motion to grant a waiver to Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School that would allow it to save 20% of its seats for Greenmount West students. It instead granted a GAA waiver to set aside 10% of its seats, which was the recommendation of the CEO. No numbers were attached to these percentages. No reason exists for why the waiver was granted. They had no basis for saying yes.

One board member made a point of noting for the record that a policy should be set in advance of granting such waivers in the future.

A New Voice for Public Education in Baltimore

1.jpg

In fall 2015, a group of concerned parents came together at the 29th Street Community Center in Charles Village to hear about charter school funding. We wanted to know what impact the charter school lawsuit would have on students in Baltimore City’s traditional public schools.

A presentation by Baltimore City Public Schools’ Executive Director of New Initiatives, Alison Perkins-Cohen, left us wanting to know more. Over the three months since, we have learned a lot about charter law in Maryland, about how the City Schools budget works (and doesn’t work), and about the ways in which the governor and private interests are working to change the way our schools are funded and run.

We worked to understand – asking questions, creating presentations, revising presentations, creating infographics, scrapping infographics. We also decided to organize. We started to have meetings and attend other people’s meetings. We created a petition. Our hope is to become the seed of a grassroots campaign for fair and equitable school funding.

On this blog we will post original insights and links to posts we like from around the Web. We invite you to listen to the voices of public school parents, teachers, staff and supporters who are invested in their public schools – schools that take care of our children and anchor our communities. Our goal is to broaden and deepen the conversation about the future of public schooling in Baltimore City. We invite you to join us.