How much is too much and when will we know?

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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.

 

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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.

Law Says “Commensurate” Funding, But Baltimore City Charter Schools Get More

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This past September, some of the charter school operators in Baltimore City filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore City School System, saying City Schools is not funding them adequately under Maryland State law.

Maryland State law says school systems must fund charter schools “commensurate with the amount disbursed to other public schools in the local jurisdiction” (Md. Code, § 9-109(a) of the Education Article). The nine charter operators who are suing the school district think they are getting less than they deserve compared to traditional schools.

A People for Public Schools analysis, however, conducted in collaboration with the principals of two similar Baltimore City elementary/middle schools – one charter and one traditional, both Title I – shows that charter schools are getting much more.

Both schools have about 740 students, but the charter school has 14 percent more full-time-equivalent (FTE) teachers – 41 compared to 36. (This does not count special education and English as a Second Language teachers, which are funded according to need at both traditional and charter schools.)

When it comes to total staff, the difference is even more stark: The charter school has 92 FTEs, compared to 62 for the traditional school, a difference of nearly 50 percent. The charter school has two assistant principals, while the traditional school has one. The charter school has 3.5 Academic Coach FTEs, while the traditional school has none.

The charter school has an orchestra with strings in addition to a band. They have a nutrition class, environmental science, and a musical production each spring. And, if that were not enough of a disparity, the charter school still had enough of a surplus saved over a number of years to undertake a significant expansion of their school building.

This is not surprising, since charter schools get about 50 percent more funding per pupil than traditional schools. Charters receive more than $9,000 per student, compared to about $6,000 for traditional schools. Charter schools need to pay for some additional costs from those funds, such as principals and professional development, but our analysis indicates that the disparate funding still results in widely unequal resources at schools.

With more than 15,000 of our roughly 80,000 students currently attending charter schools, Baltimore City is currently the only school district in Maryland that has to worry about the impact of significantly higher charter school funding on traditional schools. Baltimore City Schools is increasingly moving to a two-tiered system of schools – one much better funded than the other.

Charter operators would have you think all of that extra funding they get comes from a bloated City Schools central office at North Avenue. Our next blog post will challenge that long-held assumption.

As People for Public Schools, we want the charters to drop the lawsuit and engage in public negotiations with the District that include advocates for traditional neighborhood public schools. Baltimore City students and teachers deserve a fair and equitable funding formula – one that no longer benefits charter school students at the expense of their traditional school peers.

Baltimore City Charter Lawsuit Q&A

In fall 2015, a number of charter schools filed suit against Baltimore City Public Schools. In the ensuing months, People for Public Schools formed, created a petition for fair school funding, and researched the legal and budgetary concerns driving the charter lawsuit. We have prepared this Q&A to help parents and others understand the issues and get a sense of what’s at stake for all students if the charters win. This post is the second in a series. Part 1 covers Maryland charter law basics.

1. Who is suing the Baltimore City Public School System?

Nine charter operators representing 14 of Baltimore City’s 34 charter schools have joined the lawsuit. These include:

Operator Schools
AFYA Baltimore, Inc. AFYA Public Charter School; Tunbridge Public Charter School; Brehms Lane Elementary School (opening 2016)
Baltimore Montessori, Inc. Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School (including the Middle School)
City Neighbors Foundation City Neighbors Charter School; City Neighbors Hamilton; City Neighbors High School
Creative City Public Charter School Foundation, Inc. Creative City Public Charter School
The Empowerment Center, Inc. The Empowerment Academy
Experiential Environmental Education, Inc. The Green School of Baltimore
KIPP Baltimore, Inc. KIPP Ujima Village Academy; KIPP Harmony Academy
Patterson Park Public Charter School, Inc. Patterson Park Public Charter School
Southwest Baltimore Charter School, Inc. Southwest Baltimore Charter School

2. What is the basis for the current lawsuit?

The lawsuit alleges that the public school system has breached its contract with the litigating charters. There are essentially two claims. The first accuses City Schools of not following the Maryland State Board of Education (MSBE) guidance regarding funding, thereby underfunding these charter schools. The second claim is that City Schools has not provided charter schools with sufficient supporting documentation for how the funding has been calculated. The nine operators who have sued as of fall 2015 have asked for damages of at least $75,000 each plus costs.  Since the lawsuit alleges breach of contract, presumably they also seek enforcement of the MSBE funding guidance and further documentation of City School’s funding.

3. How has the District calculated how much funding charter schools receive? What’s the funding formula?

This infographic provides a sketch of how Baltimore City Schools calculates charter school funding and an outline of what’s at stake if the litigating charters win their lawsuit.

Under the current funding formula used by Baltimore City Schools, the system takes all general federal, state and local funding and deducts two “buckets” of funds. The first bucket consists of money that the system must spend but that does not directly benefit K-12 students in public schools. This includes system-wide costs for:

  • Retiree health benefits for retired teachers (including teachers from charter schools)
  • Debt service
  • Money spent on Pre-K
  • Non-public placements for special education students whose needs cannot be met in public schools

    The system then deducts funding that is due only to specific K-12 students, including:

  • Special education funding
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages funding
  • Specialized transportation funding (covers the costs of transportation for students with special needs, homeless students, etc.)

Finally, according to MSBE guidance, the system deducts the 2% administrative fee and then divides what’s left by the number of K-12 students in the system. In 2014-15, this resulted in $9,556 per charter school student. Charter schools serving eligible students have then received a mix of cash and services for special education, limited English proficiency (LEP), and other students due special services, as well as any Title I funding they were due.

4. What’s wrong with the MSBE guidance about funding?

In 2004, the year charter schools began to operate in Baltimore, City Schools proposed funding them with a mix of cash and services. City Neighbors Charter School and Patterson Park Public Charter School filed petitions with MSBE, arguing that the mix was not commensurate with the funding received by other public schools in Baltimore City. MSBE’s decisions favored these early charter schools, issuing guidance that stated that local school systems should take their total budget, deduct expenses for debt service and adult education, and then divide by the number of students in the system to come up with an average per pupil amount. Charters would then receive this amount for each student they enrolled. This guidance was appealed by the Baltimore City School System, but it was ultimately upheld by Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

However, from the point of view of those seeking fair and equitable funding for all students, the MSBE guidance is a primary source of tension between charter and traditional public schools. All school systems have out-of-classroom expenses other than debt service and adult education. If charters do not pay their fair share, the burden of these expenses falls unfairly on traditional school students and their schools.

The District and charter schools have been working around the guidance for that reason. The school system has continued to deduct commonly-shared public expenses prior to calculating per pupil funding for charter schools. Charter schools have to date agreed to share many of these expenses, such as money for specialized placements for special education students. In their October 7, 2015, presentation to the City Council, the litigating charter operators agreed that retiree health benefits, non-public placements, and specialized transportation should be deducted before charter funding is calculated.

Additionally, the guidance does not account for the fact that some funding is spent not on all students but only on students with a particular need. Baltimore charter schools have agreed in the past to the District’s deducting these funds prior to disbursing the per pupil amount for charter schools. Funding and/or services for students who qualify for them, such as English-language learners and students with special needs, are then added to the budgets of the schools that serve these students. That is where these funds should go.

5. What happens if the litigating charters win?

It’s not completely clear, but if a judge or mediator followed the logic of the litigating charters’ claim, which is based on the MSBE guidance, and required City Schools to use that formula, it is possible that the $106 million of required spending for retiree health benefits, pre-K, and non-public placements that is currently spread across all students would instead need to be paid for only by students in traditional public schools. This would result in over $15 million fewer dollars for students in traditional public schools, as charter schools would not be paying their fair share of these costs.

6. Why do traditional public school parents need a voice in this issue?

Any decisions made by the School Board, a mediator, or a judge about charter school funding will have an impact on all children in all Baltimore City Public Schools. While representatives of the litigating charters claim to speak for all parents, they are advocating for a funding formula that would be disastrous for students in traditional public schools. All parents of Baltimore City School students deserve to be heard on this issue. All of our children are owed adequate and equitable funding. If you agree, sign the petition.