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Date Posted: 15:57:05 06/30/10 Wed
Author: Larry
Subject: about the Charter Schools Commission litigation

It’s important to understand this legal action concerns only Commission Charter Schools, which are created and funded differently than all other types of charter schools. There are hundreds of charter schools in Georgia, but only two are Commission Charter Schools and both are being sued by every school district that lost state funding to them, a litigation rate of 100 per cent.

State Funding

All public schools receive state QBE funding based on the students enrolled in their school. Some kids are more expensive to educate for various reasons and earn more QBE funding. QBE handles this by having 19 funding categories. One category is the “baseline” and is assigned a dollar amount - $2716 in FY2010. The other categories are assigned a “weight” which is that category’s cost relative to the baseline. For example, a kid in 9th grade with no special needs earns $2716 in funding. The weight for Category 5 Special Ed is 5.8, so a 9th grader in this category would earn nearly $16,000 in QBE funding. The “average” for a given number of students is of limited value, because it will change dramatically depending on the number of “enhance funded” students in the group.

When run through the QBE funding formula, the 160,000 GCPS students earned $609.5 million and 300 Ivy Prep students earned $1.02 million. Ivy Prep’s average student funding is lower than GCPS’ ($3300 vs. $3800) because Ivy Prep has a lower percentage of expensive to educate students. Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology is an example of a charter school on the other end of the spectrum. A whopping 50% of GSMST’s student body is enhanced funded students and their average student state funding is over $4600.

Local Funding

With the exception of state (including Commission) schools, all charter schools receive their share of local funds, determined by state law. For the reasons explained above, this formula does not use head counts or averages. Basically, it calculates the ratio of state funding between the school and system, then applies that ratio to total local funds. For example, if a charter school earns 5% of the state funding earned by its home district, it will receive 5% of all local funds. Again, this school may not enroll 5% of the district student population because their student may be more expensive (GSMST) or less expensive (Ivy Prep) to educate. It’s not perfect, but it’s reasonable since the home school district does functionally the same thing with its schools.

Commission Charter Schools – and the problem

Legislation enacted last year created the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which is appointed by the State BOE, also an appointed board. The Commission has the authority to approve charter schools and alter QBE funding. Since Commission schools are state schools, they are specifically prohibited by Georgia’s Constitution from receiving local funds, UNLESS local taxpayers vote to fund them. No state charter school has ever requested such a voter referendum.

After being denied by the BOE, Ivy Prep was approved by the state and operated the first year as a state Special Charter School. As soon as they were approved, Ivy Prep could have requested a referendum on local funding. Had voters approved, the BOE’s denial would have been moot and Ivy Prep would have been funded the same as every other public school in Gwinnett. But, that’s not what they did.

Ivy Prep subsequently re-filed their original application with the Charter Schools Commission and was approved. Ivy Prep also requested additional funding to make up for having no local funding and the Commission also approved that. What the Commission didn’t do was use the existing funding formula; they invented their own.

The amount of local funding – what GCPS would have spent or what another charter school would have received from GCPS – is about $550,000 for the 200 Gwinnett-based kids who attend Ivy Prep. The Commission deducted $850,000, which cost Gwinnett taxpayers $300,000 that wouldn’t have been spent had these kids enrolled in any public school in Gwinnett other than Ivy Prep. Incidentally, Ivy Prep does not dispute that this money was QBE funding earned by kids who do not attend their school. Unlike the other nearly 200 school systems in Georgia, the plaintiffs’ schools receive less than full QBE earned funding. There is nothing other than local tax money to replace this reduction in state funding.

Think about the situation this creates. This one school with only 200 kids costs an extra $300k a year, every year – and for what? The Commission is down there stamping out approvals with both hands, so more of these things will open in Gwinnett and every one will take more money away from kids enrolled in GCPS – in whatever amount the Commission decides.

Now, I have a question, which is not rhetorical, for anyone opposed to this litigation:

Since the Georgia Charter Schools Commission is appointed by an appointed board (the State BOE) they are immune from voter/taxpayer dissatisfaction. They also have pretty much unbridled say over state funding of public schools - as evidenced by the fact they ignored the existing charter school funding formula and invented their own.

What will you do, come the day you disagree with how they are spending our money?

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