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Opinion: Low funding cripples state charter schools

In this column, Tony Roberts, Georgia Charter Schools Association president and CEO, calls for additional funding for state authorized charter schools.

By Tony Roberts

Many Georgia public charter schools are thriving, others need funding boost

Georgia has more than 80,000 public charter school students, which is more than triple the number enrolled in Georgia charter schools just a decade ago. This growth demonstrates the popularity of charter schools and the important role they play as a public school option for students and families.

In the city of Atlanta, charter schools are improving academic outcomes for children, particularly low-income students of color. You can see evidence of this when looking at Georgia’s 2017 College and Career Ready Performance Index and the recent Georgia Milestones assessment results: charter schools like Drew Charter School, Centennial Academy, KIPP STRIVE Primary and KIPP Atlanta Collegiate were among the district’s top performers. The success of Atlanta charter schools is also apparent in the district’s plan to turnaround several of its lowest performing schools. As part of that plan, the district has contracted with several charter operators like Purpose Built Schools and the Kindezi Schools. These charter operators are already helping to raise the achievement bar for Atlanta’s students.

In the greater metro Atlanta area, DeKalb PATH Academy, Amana Academy, Ivy Preparatory Academy at Kirkwood for Girls and the Museum School of Avondale Estates are also demonstrating academic excellence. In rural Georgia, schools like Pataula Charter Academy, Baconton Community Charter School, Academy of Classical Education and Lake Oconee Academy have also garnered reputations for success in the classroom.

The high performance and innovation of these schools has led to demand for charter schools throughout Georgia. This fall, there were more than 15,000 students on waitlists at a Georgia charter school.

However, despite the success of many Georgia charter schools, funding for state authorized charter schools remains a barrier to charter school quality. State charter school students are now funded approximately 20 percent or more below traditional school students. That’s because state law requires those state charter schools to receive the average of Georgia’s five lowest funded school districts. In addition to lower funding, most state charter schools have to rent the school buildings where they are located.

The lower funding coupled with facilities costs often means less money for the classroom, lower teacher pay and high teacher turnover. It’s not surprising that some of these state charter schools are struggling academically and operationally. Also, as part of their contract with the state, charter schools are expected to perform above the district average and the state, but this is difficult to achieve when they are given below average funding.

Georgia Charter Schools Association believes that increasing the funding to at least the state average would give these schools the opportunity to excel academically like many of the charter schools that have been authorized by local school districts. Ensuring all charter school students are funded equally and equitably will benefit thousands of Georgia students and the entire state economically. It’s imperative that all of our children have access to a high-quality and transformative education.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.