Boost in charter school enrollment expected under Brown’s school formula

Boost in charter school enrollment expected under Brown’s school formula

Charter school operators and their supporters are looking at a potential boom in enrollment thanks to funding equities included in the state’s new education budget formula.

New charters opened only a year ago might be disadvantaged by as much as $1,500 per student compared to one established under the new Local Control Funding Formula even though both might serve a similar student population, according to analysis from the California Charter Schools Association.

“New schools – under the new LCFF – are among the most favorably funded charter schools now in the state,” said Jed Wallace, president of the charter association in an interview. “And as word of this is starting to spread throughout the charter community it is leading many to reexamine their thoughts about what they should be doing about serving more students.

“We think this is going to ultimately add very significant additional momentum to what has already been a very robust growth picture for charter schools in California,” he said.

A product of more than two years of work by Gov. Jerry Brown and key education advisers, the new funding system gives back to local school boards control over billions of dollars in education money but requires a larger share of the cash be used to support educationally disadvantaged students – defined as English learners, low income and foster youth.

But the system, by itself, was not designed to deliver a lot of new money to schools – at least not right away. An increase in the base grant that the state is providing to all school districts this year – about $541 per student – comes as a result of the improving economy and the passage of last year’s Proposition 30 tax hike.

Much of the promise of additional state support tied to the LCFF – estimated at about $18 billion – would come as the program unfolds over the next seven years – assuming the economy continues to improve and lawmakers don’t make any major changes.

As a champion of charter schools, the governor was careful to include as part of the LCFF’s eight-year rollout additional money for charters intended to account for an estimated 7 percent lag that they have suffered over time.

New charters, however, turn out to be among the biggest winners right away because of funding restrictions imposed four years ago.

As part of the 2009 budget agreement, state money for new charters was frozen at the time that the Legislature granted spending flexibility to schools over the use of billions in categorical funding.

Wallace said that under the LCFF, new charters are now being funded at the same per student rate as their surrounding school district.

Because the LCFF also directs more money to the educationally disadvantaged, new charters opening in low-income, urban neighborhoods are receiving a secondary boost.

A new middle school opened this fall in South Central Los Angeles by Green Dot Public Schools is estimated to receive $1,500 more per student than it would have had the doors opened in 2012, according to analysis from the charter association.

Key Academy in Hayward is expected to receive $837 more per student under the LCFF while Kepler Neighborhood in Fresno is expected to receive $605 more per student, the charter association said.

It is too early to tell what impact the LCFF has had on charter expansion already, but Wallace said the outlook is more than promising.

“Really the word is only now getting around,” he said. “What we’ve said is that while the LCFF is not perfect and there are some things we are concerned about – there’s a general understanding that it is achieving significant funding equity for charter schools.

“As people look at it, they are realizing that for new charter schools, the economics have fundamentally changed,” he explained. “And I believe that’s going to result in an increase of momentum for the 15-16 and 16-17 years.”

Brown, who helped establish charter schools while mayor of Oakland, has emerged as perhaps the movement’s greatest supporter since taking office in 2011. In addition to killing bills that would have capped charter growth and helped unions organize charter employees, the governor has been vigilant through the budget process to ensure charters were getting their fair share of state money.

A report issued last year by the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that compared to traditional public schools, charter schools already receive on average $395 less per student.

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