How much less are Baltimore traditional schools getting next year?

That’s a question People for Public Schools put back on the table at the March 21 meeting of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners. Representing People for Public Schools, Edit Barry read the following statement:

Dear Dr. Santelises and Members of the Board of School Commissioners,

We would like to call attention to the funding disparity between projected cuts to per-pupil funding at charter and traditional schools. We know that under the $129M deficit scenario, the cut to the charter per pupil across the board was a 5% reduction over last year.  Traditional schools were cut around 20%. In terms of per pupil dollars, we understand that to mean that before ELL, Special Education, and Fair Student Funding weights are added to school budgets, charter schools would receive $8,778 per student. Traditional schools would receive $4,585. Even allowing for the fact that the District plans to charge charter schools for more services than it has previously, these cuts, in all likelihood, push the funding for charters to a point where it is patently unfair. We therefore have two requests:

First, that the Board and CEO commit to making the actual disparity public. How? People for Public Schools asked Dr. Santelises at last week’s PCAB meeting, and she agreed, to direct staff to put the current per pupil figures through the same formula used in the AIR study. That study showed that the disparity in our school district was under $30 per pupil. That figure — less than $30 — makes our school district one of the more fair in Maryland, in terms of charter vs. traditional school funding. Under $30 is our benchmark. The AIR calculation is the best available tool to make a comparison. We would like to see what that disparity is under the $129M scenario and any new scenarios. We think it is fair to expect the CEO’s office to release those figures along with the new budget scenarios it has promised to share publicly by this Friday.

Exhibit I in the AIR study titled Funding Provided to Public Schools and Public Charter Schools in Maryland (Dec. 2016) shows a $27 average difference in per pupil funding at charters versus traditional schools in Baltimore City, and the relative fairness of past funding in Baltimore City relative to other districts.

Second, we demand that the Board and the CEO commit to pursuing every avenue that may lead to a remedy to unfair school funding. In public forums, the CEO and staff have blamed the disparity on “state law.” Commissioners on this Board have acknowledged that the guidance is a burden on the District’s budget and its ability to fund schools fairly and equitably. The leadership of City Schools knows that following the law is responsible for what is arguably not “commensurate funding,” so we urge you to take any or all of the following courses of action: a) fight the charter lawsuit to the point at which MSBE revisits its prior guidance establishing the 2% formula; b) fight for the Kirwan Commission to change the law; c) propose or support new legislation for 2018. Until then, we ask that you do everything in your power to ensure charters pay their fair share of central office costs, debt burdens, and the fund balance.

Thank you.

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.

A New Voice for Public Education in Baltimore

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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.