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The Charter Funding Conflict: Where's the Accountability for State Ed.?

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For as long as any of us have been in education there have been parents who want their children to go to the best possible schools. Sometimes, however, they cannot always afford to live in the community where they want their child to go to school, or their child's home district isn't as successful as other schools in the area (or a whole host of other reasons).

So, they aren't truthful about residency and bring their children to a location (that they may have struck a deal with a family member) and drop them off so they can take the bus to the desired school. Perhaps they even have mail sent to the family member's home so it all looks legit.

This can drain limited resources that schools already have in place, because some of these students may need extra resources under the umbrella of special education. Schools have been put in the position of being the bad guy; forcing the residency issue (when they have the resources to do so), and then telling the parent that their child cannot attend the school anymore. 

Since the late 90's, charter schools have appeared as a way to offer parents greater choice in what school their children may attend.  Many charters are considered public schools and utilize a lottery systems to provide fair access to families interested in an alternative choice to their neighborhood school. Yes, the lottery system is a controversial topic all on its own.

Unfortunately, over the years due to political and financial reasons, public neighborhood schools and charter schools have been pitted against each other. There has been a great deal of media attention regarding which system is better. Because of this unfair focus, there is a high level of distrust when the conversation about traditional public schools and charter schools comes up.

And the NY State Education Department recently made that conversation a little bit tougher.

Where is the Accountability?

Considering the NY State Education Department has been the poster child of accountability over the years, a recent story reported by WNYT, which you can read in its entirety here, (Albany, NY NBC affiliate) came as sort of a surprise, and should make us all want to speak out, and it begins with funding.

The funding for schools is paid by the state to the school of attendance for each child.  Because the funding follows the child and where they attend school (usually where they are attending on October 1), there is sometimes some movement of funds to and from a district to ensure that each school receives the proper amount for the number of students attending. 

According to Ben Amey,

"Since charter schools started in the Capital District in 1999, local school districts have paid hundreds of millions of dollars for their students to attend. A majority of that money is paid for students who live in the district.

But since 2011, three local school districts, Albany, Lansingburgh, and Troy, say they have lost millions of dollars paying for children they shouldn't have."

How? Amey reports that,

"When there is a dispute between a public school and a charter school over how much money is owed, the state Education Department steps in. "The charter schools, then, whatever the difference was, goes to SED and asks for the money. That's called an intercept," said John Carmello, Superintendent of the Troy Enlarged City School District. "And SED takes our money and gives it to the charter schools, without any further proof."

"We're not even told who these kids are, or what the addresses are, or which kids are even being disputed," said William Hogan, Assistant Superintendent for Business Affairs at the Albany City School District. "We're just given a piece of paper with a deduct that can be tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Although the districts can appeal, Amey goes on to report,

"There is an appeals process for districts to go through to try and get their money back, but public schools are finding it expensive and rarely successful. "We haven't been able to get any of our funding back," said Kyer.

Lansingburgh filed an appeal under the old state guidelines. Under that process, schools first appeal to the charter school itself, then to whoever gave the charter school its license if the first appeal fails. Lansingburgh has been stuck on the second stage of that appeal for over a year.

If that second phase of the appeal fails, they can appeal to the state Education Department commissioner herself. But remember, the commissioner is one of the people who already approved the intercept in the first place."

Amey's report continues by stating,

"So what are your tax dollars paying for? In May 2014, Albany taxpayers paid for a kid to go to a charter school who supposedly lived in an empty lot on Livingston Avenue. In Albany, the district pays over $14,000 for each student who goes to a charter school. And in October of 2014, Albany taxpayers doled out another $14,000 for a child who supposedly lived in a boarded up home on 3rd Street. The Albany City School District knew that no one lived there, but the state took the money anyway."

In the End

Over the years the NY State Education Department has led the state with the attitude of "Do as I say, not as I do." This story is complicated due to the fact that it focuses on charter schools and some public schools that have seen a depletion of funds, but I think it is much more than that.

All schools, charter or traditional public, are going through this crisis mode of trying to survive in an accountability crazed, social-Darwinist state. Unfortunately, the State Education Department in NY seems to be more concerned about the accountability and compliance of some schools around the state more than others, when they should be more concerned about their own accountability to work in partnership with all schools.

How is it that the State Education Department can ask of one system what they don't ask of another? What's even more sad than that is that we all accept it as the way it is. Too many taxpayers, educators and school building and district leaders complain about it behind closed doors but do nothing about it out in the open.

We should all applaud these very strong city school leaders for speaking up on behalf students who don't have a voice, and asking the State Education Department to spend a little less time worrying about the accountability of the schools across the state, and worry a little bit more about their own. 

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Pixabay

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