Monday, February 18, 2019

So how ARE we funding charters in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts public schools, both charter and district, are funded through a combination of state and local funds, with the split of how much of each based on the local capacity to pay for an adequate education.

This is the principle underlying the state's calculation of Chapter 70 aid to districts.
The state gives at least 17.5% of the foundation budget to every district, regardless of that district's ability to fund its school system, and regardless of the level at which it does fund its school system.

To that, the state generally adds--though there is no Constitutional requirement to do so--that no district receives less aid than in a prior year, and every district receives a per pupil increase of prior years.

Charter schools--whose students are counted in their sending district's foundation budget--are funded on a per pupil basis at the same level (at or above foundation) as their district's students. These funds are entirely taken from Chapter 70 aid, regardless of the proportion at which their district is funded by the state.

The sending district is reimbursed for the amount of the per pupil funding for the first year a student attends a charter school; theoretically, there is also supposed to be funding in subsequent years, but that never happens. Any positive increase in charter funding triggers a state reimbursement. The principle here is that there is a transition as the district readjusts to not having that student's funding.

The model is presented as "the funding follows the student," that is, if the student attends the charter, the funding of that individual student goes with that student.

We now, however, see several other rules being presented:

  • The Governor's funding bill argues that only districts that see positive real change in students over five years, not any single year, should get reimbursements. Thus this is no longer, it appears, about transitions, which do happen every year, but about sustained charter growth being recognized as a funding issue. Changes every year are, in fact, a funding issue, still. Sustained charter growth is also a funding issue, but transitional funding doesn't deal with the issue at scale.
  • The Governor's budget and the PROMISE bill both add concern for the amount of funding a district gets from the state. That this funding is not a matter of constitutional need has been set aside to a principle of every district has to get their bit and further that the bit must reach the district schools. Thus the question of the money following the child, and the principle of funding at least in large part being based on district need, has been moved over due to the demand of every single district getting and retaining Chapter 70 aid. 
I, perhaps obviously, have opinions on this. Setting that aside for the moment, however, I want us to recognize that we are changing our conversation around charter school funding here. I don't want us to be fooling ourselves around what it is that we are doing. 

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