Report: Many charter schools do without

Here’s something important about charter schools that mostly is overlooked: When it comes to facilities, they tend to be pretty modest.

Many have smaller classrooms than traditional public schools. And many don’t have libraries, or computer labs or adequate kitchens.

charter logoA new survey of charter schools in 10 states highlights what charters face in terms of facilities – and why, perhaps, charter advocates in states like Florida are seeking recurring sources of money for those needs.

Put together by the Charter School Facilities Initiative, a joint effort by the Colorado League of Charter Schools and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the survey did not include Florida. But there’s little doubt that many charter operators in the Sunshine State will identify with the findings:

  • In each of the surveyed states, at least 60 percent of the charter classrooms were considerably smaller than those in district schools.
  • Fewer than 50 percent have a kitchen that allows the school to prepare meals on site and qualify for free, federally-funded meal programs.
  • Many middle and high school charters don’t have access to gyms. In Tennessee, 53.3 percent of them don’t have access. In Indiana, it’s 50 percent.
  • In almost every state, a majority of charter schools don’t have at least one specialized instructional place, such as a library, computer lab or music classroom. In Indiana, 71.4 percent of charters lack a library. In New Jersey, 60.6 percent don’t have a computer lab. In Texas, 56.2 percent don’t have an art or music room.
  • Charters, on average, spend more than 10 percent of their operating budgets on facilities instead of using the money for hiring additional teachers or purchasing curricular materials.

The report offers some ideas for states to help charter schools with capital funding, including creating a state grant program and/or loan program for charter school facilities. Washington, D.C.’s loan program totals more than $30 million. Another possibility: states could give charters equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or a charters-only bonding authority. Connecticut has provided public charter schools with $20 million in bond financing for facilities.

Florida charters didn’t get the recurring funding they wanted this legislative session for construction and maintenance. Lawmakers did agree to a one-time $91 million – $36 million more than last year – but with 203,000 students and 579 charters, supporters said it’s still not enough.

Gov. Rick Scott approved the allocation last week.

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BY Sherri Ackerman

Sherri Ackerman is the former associate editor of redefinED. She is a former correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times and reporter for The Tampa Tribune, writing about everything from cops and courts to social services and education. She grew up in Indiana and moved to Tampa as a teenager, graduating from Brandon High School and, later, from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/news editing. Sherri passed away in March 2016.