Charters & Choice News Roundup: Lava Highlights Ongoing Charter School Issues
A problem very unique to Hawaii—lava flow—has exposed a very well-known issue in the charter sector: unequal funding and supports.
Although independence from the larger public school infrastructure comes with benefits, such as more freedom over dictating the length of a school day or what to pay teachers, it also creates challenges. It's harder for charter schools to procure buildings space, provide transportation, or in the case of charter schools in Pahoa on the Big Island, handle emergencies such as lava oozing toward your school.
"Hundreds of students at DOE schools were relocated in October in anticipation of lava crossing Highway 130, with many moving into new temporary classrooms set up in a parking lot at Keaau High School. The DOE spent $9 million on those facilities, but charter schools have largely been left out in the cold, said Kua O Ka La public charter school Principal Administrator Susie Osborne.
'We just need some stabilization funds to help us through the remainder of the year,' she said Monday. 'What this points to is a gap in the education system. ... The DOE was able to get $9 million at the drop of a hat, but there's nothing in the public school system to address anything for charter schools in an emergency. ... It points to yet another inequity for charter school students.' "
As I mentioned, one of the biggest hurdles for charters is getting buildings for their schools because charters often get less per pupil funding from the state and don't have the power to levy taxes to pay for facilities. That's forced a lot of charter school leaders to get creative.
You see a strip mall, I see potential ... It's Keith Weaver's job to find spaces for the growing charter school network Yes Prep in Houston. He described his work to Laura Isensee with Houston Public Media.
"'It's always different," Weaver said. 'We've transitioned a five-story bank building, a church, a DHL truck warehouse. We're currently in the process of working on a furniture store.'
Just as the building approach is creative, so is the financing to pay for the campuses, which cost an average of $12 million."
When vacant school buildings become prime real estate ... meanwhile, some lawmakers in Missouri want to make it easier for charter schools to get into old district buildings, according to a story from the St. Louis Dispatch:
"The measure, sponsored by Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, does not include that option. But it does require public school districts to transfer their vacant buildings to charter schools at fair market value if requested, with some exceptions. This wording worried lawmakers and lobbyists alike."
If school districts one day need to expand, Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City, pointed out, they couldn't if a charter had scooped up their vacant buildings."
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Photo: One of many breakouts of lava on the upslope of the leading edge near the town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii is seen in January. —U.S. Geological Survey/AP