Public charter school advocates are upset about a proposed change in the District's funding formula -- one that D.C. officials say is intended to make the schools more accountable for their facilities costs.
Like public schools, public charter schools are funded according to a per-pupil allocation. The basic amount--which is adjusted for grade level and special needs--would be $8,945 under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's proposed 2010 budget.
Unlike public schools, charters enter the world without buildings waiting for them. So they receive an additional per-pupil allowance to help pay rent, mortgage or other facilities-related costs. This year's per rate is $3,109.
But controls on how charters actually use the money have been loose, District officials say, and some schools have been spending the facilities funds to defray other costs, such as payroll. Fenty wants to scrap the formula and cut the amount of facilities money available by $24 million (to $66 million). Charter schools would be required to submit evidence of allowable costs to the D.C. Public Charter School Board in order to receive payment.
Robert Cane, executive director of FOCUS (Friends of Choice in Urban Schools), an advocacy group, said the change would make it difficult for charter schools to accumulate the kind of capital reserves needed to secure bank financing to buy a building. He said he finds Fenty's decision highly inequitable, given the growth in charter school enrollment this year (up 17 percent). He also said it is part of a pattern of hostile decisions by the mayor, which include limits on the number of surplus public school buildings being made available to charters looking for new quarters.
"I would say that the Fenty administration appears to be upset because not every charter school is spending every dollar on facilities," he said. "So now what they're saying is we're not going to let you spend any of those dollars on academics." It creates an incentive, he said "to be just as profligate in spending as DCPS is."
The formula flap is expected to surface today when the D.C. Council holds its annual budget hearing on charter school funding.