by Brian Washington
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Imagine you live in a neighborhood with three or four charter schools within walking distance from your home, and yet, none of them provide students with a better education than the neighborhood public school and just about all of them are half empty because there aren’t enough students where you live to fill all the slots.
According to a new report, many California communities are facing this situation and it’s costing taxpayers a boatload of cash.
The report, Spending Blind: The Failure of Policy Planning in California Charter School Funding, concludes that funding for charter school facilities is out of sync with the legislative intent behind the creation of these schools, which are supposed to serve as incubators for new and cutting edge educational practices that are eventually used in traditional public schools.
This “disconnect” is leading to hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars being spent annually without any real strategy to benefit students or maximize taxpayers’ investment.
Unfortunately, the central conclusion of this analysis is that funding for charter facilities is almost completely disconnected from educational policy objectives, and the results are, in turn, scattershot and haphazard. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent each year without any meaningful strategy,” reads the report.
“Some of this money benefits schools that offer high quality education; but this is as much by chance as by design. Far too often much of these public funds are spent on schools built in neighborhoods that have no need for additional classroom space, and which offer no improvement over the quality of education already available in nearby public schools.
In 1998, less than 200 charter schools called California home. Today, that number has grown by more than 600 percent to 1,200 schools serving about 600,000 students (almost 10 percent of the state’s student population). The report states this growth is being fueled by a “network of government programs that provide public funding or tax subsidies for charter school buildings.”
In fact, within the last 15 years, California has shelled out more than $2.5 billion in government funding and subsidies to lease, build, or buy facilities for charters schools. Think about it. More than $2 billion going to charter school facilities while public schools throughout the state face shortfalls and struggle to meet students’ needs. To make matters worse, some of this money even went to charters that have been found guilty of discriminatory enrollment and/or unethical or corrupt practices.
However, the author of the report, which was released by a non-profit organization called In the Public Interest, says it’s not too late for lawmakers to turn things around.
“With $500 million in newly appropriated general bond funding waiting to go out the door, now is the time for legislators to establish spending rules to guarantee that available funds serve to meet the most critical needs of California students,” reads the executive summary. “It is my hope that this report may help shed some light on this pressing issue.”