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School Choice Advocates Look To Lawmakers For Facility Funding Boost

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Charter school advocates are calling on lawmakers to bump up their funding for facilities. They say the money now going to charters falls well below what they need. But critics say more changes should be made before a funding increase. 

Supporters of charter schools argue that parents and students should have the ability to make their own choice of which school they want to attend, and that the disparity in facility funding shouldn’t stand in the way of that.

The Fordham Institute is a pro-charter school research group which operates several charters in Ohio. Chad Aldis, vice president of Ohio policy and advocacy, says a charter school facility bill ends up being about $785 per student. But he says charters only get $200 per pupil from the state.

“And that creates a huge stress point and ends up requiring charter schools to spend a lot less on teacher salaries and other things that are very critical to getting the education that we want,” says Aldis.

Aldis says drooping facility funds means leaving students without a full slate of resources.

“They don’t have the money to spend on adequate facilities end up missing out on things like science labs, and computer centers, and playgrounds, and other things that are incredibly critical and part of the education process,” Aldis says.

But there’s a question about using the facility funds responsibly.

The Ohio Auditor’s office just recently released a report saying several charter schools had entered into building leasing agreements that far exceeded the fair market price. The auditor pointed out a portion of those leases were with a company that had ties to the school’s management or operating entity. 

The legislature recently passed a law to stop this from happening by having an independent realtor review the leasing agreement.

But Stephen Dyer, the education fellow from the left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio and a vocal critic of charters, says more can still be done to increase accountability.

“Charter schools should have some facilities funding so they don’t have to run into the arms of ne’er do wells for profit operators the problems is how much should they get and most importantly that should be a separate part of money,” says Dyer.

He's talking about a long discussed change to the funding structure. Currently money follows a student who decides to attend a charter school. Traditional school advocates argue this takes money away from the local districts.

Instead Dyer calls for a switch to what’s known as “direct funding” where the state doesn’t pull money from school districts and creates a separate fund for charters.

“If the state really believes in school choice and believes in charter schools and believes in charter school funding. Then they need to start coming up with revenue that actually does not affect the 90% of students who are not at charter schools,” Dyer says.

Aldis with the Fordham Institute agrees with Dyer that the state should directly fund charter schools. However, if that were to happen, he’d want it to come from a large pool of funds and not from a budget line item that could be wiped out in the future.

This issue will likely be among the many topics that will be discussed at length once the Ohio General Assembly begins its budget-making process.

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