Level the Playing Field: Charter Schools VS. Traditional Public Schools
By: Jane Watt
As the new school year quickly approaches, the MIA Board of Directors and administration are once again juggling a tight budget. Every year it is the same story. The state funding does not cover the operating budget or capital needs for the school. We establish a plan to raise the necessary funds to cover the shortfall and sustain the school. This year is no different. In fact, the school will need to raise over $300,000 to cover the operating budget and another $400,000 toward our dream of purchasing the property and building a permanent school building. Charter schools struggle every day due to funding inequities. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Nor should it be.
Why the disparity in funding between charter schools and traditional public schools? There are several reasons, but first let me explain how the funding works. Quite simply, charter schools receive less funding than traditional schools, yet they are expected to produce equal or better results. Each school is funded based on the number of children who attend the school. MIA has nearly 250 students enrolled in the school this year. Funding is calculated on a per student basis (nearly $7,200/student).
While all schools receive the same funding per student, school districts receive funding for buildings and land. Charter schools do not. Charter schools become eligible for capital outlay funds only if they have been open for 3 years or have earned their accreditation. These funds help offset the cost of facilities for charter schools, but only cover a fraction of the cost. This year, the state funding for capital outlay was less than half what we anticipated. This reduction in funding is causing budget shortfalls for charter schools across the state. Some of these schools will be forced to close. Others will cut staff or supplies for students to balance the budget. MIA will actively fundraise in the community to make sure the students are not affected by the deficit. In July, we did not receive a capital outlay payment. We are hoping to receive a payment in August, but there is no guarantee.
Capital outlay does not have a recurring funding source in the state of Florida, which is one reason MIA joined a Coalition of Charter Schools. The Coalition includes schools from across the state. Together we hope to change the system by working with a lobbyist to fight for charter school funding. The group’s main platform this year was capital outlay funding. Every week during the legislative session, our group met via phone conference to hear the latest legislative updates. Last year, we requested $140 million in funding from the state for capital outlay. Initially, the House of Representatives agreed to $100 million while the Senate agreed to $0. When the legislators ended the regular session, no decision on the overall budget was made. This forced the legislators into a 20-day special session. At the end of the negotiations, a final budget for the state was approved. Charter schools were allocated only $50 million toward capital outlay. The number was far less than we hoped, yet better than nothing. Next year, the funding could be cut completely.
Another reason charter schools receive less funding than traditional public schools is that charter schools must pay back as much as 5% of the total funds they receive to the district for administrative fees. I explained the administrative fee in depth in a previous blog in the spring. For more information, visit my website at www.janewatt.org.
Every single day charter schools must make very difficult decisions about how they spend their money. MIA’s mission is “to provide a student-centered, well-rounded, interdisciplinary education. Students will engage in critical thinking while focusing on math, science, technology, environmental and global studies. The Academy will uphold the highest standards of academic excellence, integrity, respect, and social responsibility, while guiding students to achieve post-secondary success.” As you will notice, it does not mention funding or budget shortfalls. MIA’s main focus is kids. We will continue to work as hard as possible to provide the best education for our students above all else. We can do it, but we need your help.
Right now, we are expanding to add two brand new classroom modulars to accommodate our growth. We will welcome 250 students to MIA’s campus this year! The expansion has been made possible from generous donors in our community. We still need to purchase additional technology including computers and smartboards for the classrooms. We also need additional textbooks and classroom supplies for the upcoming school year. Every single penny helps the students at our school.
There are many ways you can help. Please take a minute to write a letter to your Senator or Representative asking for equitable funding for charter schools, and a recurring source of capital outlay funding. If you would like to volunteer your time and talent to MIA, contact Tina Nash at 393-5133 for more information. Or you can make a tax-deductible gift to the school and mail it to: Marco Island Academy, 2255 San Marco Dr., Marco Island, FL 34145. Thank you so much for your support. Together, we are making a difference in students’ lives!