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Most Charters Don't Have Sufficient Room to Grow, Study Says

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More than half of charter schools are located in facilities that will be too small to allow for their current rate of growth in five years, according to results from a survey by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Achieving equitable access and funding for facilities has been a contentious issue for charter school advocates for many years. To gather more data about this topic and advocate for greater access to facilities and funding for facilities for charter schools, the national charter school alliance and the Colorado League of Charter Schools have launched the Charter School Facilities Initiative.

The NAPCS survey, conducted in the spring of 2012, was distributed to roughly 5,600 charter schools throughout the U.S. with a 30 percent response rate.

The report also examined the year-to-year costs that charters pay for their buildings. About 30 percent of the respondents said they paid between $1-$99,999 each year for their facility. (That number includes land, lease, bond expenses, and capital improvements.) Over 20 percent paid between $100,000 and $249,999 per year. Overall, charter schools spend an average of 13 percent of their operating budgets on facilities, the survey found. That's a significant chunk out of charter school budgets that regular public schools don't have to grapple with, says Nina Rees, the president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. (The report does not say what percentage—if any—of regular public schools' operating costs go toward facilities.)

"Every penny that's spent on facilities is a penny that's not spent on the classroom," she said in an interview. "Solving the facilities puzzle will in and of itself have a huge impact on charter schools' academic achievement."

Schools located in the Northeastern part of the U.S. had the hardest time finding facilities to accommodate their growth, said the survey.

Another survey, conducted by the Colorado League of Charter Schools and distributed through the Charter School Facilities Initiative, also details the findings from ten states about their challenges around finding, financing, and maintaining facilities for charter schools.

The report pulls information from about 1,000 charter schools across the ten states—Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, and Texas.

Less than a quarter (between ten and 24 percent) of charter schools surveyed met grade-level standards when measuring the overall square footage per student, the report has found. In nine out of the ten states surveyed, less than 50 percent of charters have kitchen facilities that allow schools to prepare meals on site and meet federal standards for the free-and-reduced-price lunch program.

In many of the states, some charters lacked access to gymnasiums, dedicated library spaces, computer labs, or art and music rooms.

The national charter school alliance has outlined a model law with recommendations for state policies that will provide equitable funding and access to facilities for charter schools, including establishing a state grant program for charter school facilities, a state loan program for charter school facilities, as well as baking a per-pupil facilities allowance into per-pupil funding for charter schools.

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