Fenty's Charter Funding Change Criticized
When Mayor Adrian M. Fenty rolled out his proposal last month for a major change in the way public charter schools are funded, his lieutenants said the idea was developed in close consultation with the D.C. Public Charter School Board and others in the charter community.
Board Chairman Tom Nida says that isn't so, and he wants the District to put the plan on hold for a year.
Fenty's 2010 budget would scrap the current per pupil facilities allotment ($3,109) and cut the pool of available facilities money by $24 million (to $66 million). The payment was established in 1999 because, unlike public schools, public charters must lease space or finance the purchase of buildings.
But the allotment has grown more than 400 percent since 1999, and mayoral spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said it has never been adjusted to reflect schools' actual costs. Oversight of the facilities spending has been loose, officials say, and some schools have used the money to cover payroll and other costs. The new proposal would require charters to submit evidence of allowable costs to the board before payment.
Nida and other charter advocates said this will seriously disadvantage schools that want to accumulate the capital reserves necessary to get bank financing--especially in a tight credit market. Moreover, Nida said, the District dropped the proposal into the budget after only cursory discussion.
"It was done with a minimum of interaction and consideration," said Nida. "It was under the heading of preliminary dialogue and was never intended by me as something that was going into the text of the budget."
Nida added that there are also unexplored equity issues involved. DCPS, which has been steadily losing enrollment, has spent hundreds of millions over the last couple of years to renovate and redesign buildings. While enrollment in charters has boomed, they face a cut in facilities spending.
"My assumption is that we want to have equity in funding across the entire system," Nida said. He is drafting a board resolution that will ask the District to pull the change from the budget until there is more consultation.
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