Ask any elected leader and they will tell you that one of the most important things we can do for our state is improve education. Given that universal sentiment, it is very frustrating as a parent to see one of the best solutions we have for improvement– charter schools– receive far fewer dollars per student than traditional public schools.
Not only does this put stress on individual schools as they strive to educate their students, but it also discourages the creation of new charter schools in districts where existing schools are underperforming.
Charter schools are making a difference for the families and communities they serve. They are helping our state meet its goal of providing a high-quality education and giving students the chance they deserve for a successful future. Yet, the unequal way the state funds charter schools impedes their ability to maximize their potential. Despite the fact they serve the same mission and draw from the same universe of students, charter schools in Georgia are forced to operate with as much as 50 percent less funding than traditional public schools.
In addition, locally-approved charter schools receive no state funding for facilities as other public schools do, forcing them to spend their operating funds – money that should be spent in the classroom — on facility costs.
Fortunately, our elected leaders have begun to recognize this disparity. Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) introduced a bill last month that addresses fairness for charter schools and the students they serve. The proposal was consistent with the recommendations of the Governor’s Education Reform Commission and would have made a significant impact on the educational experience of thousands of children across our state.
Unfortunately, and without explanation, the provisions related to funding were removed from the legislation prior to its being heard by the House Education Committee. Senate leaders who claim to support charter schools should act quickly to add the equitable funding language back into this legislation.
What remains of Brockway’s legislation, however, includes important reforms that will move us forward. The bill, for the first time, would allocate up to $100,000 in facilities funding for each charter school. Yes, that’s still far below what a traditional public school would receive, but it’s better than what my child’s school gets today.
Legislators should approve that reform and add the money needed to the budget. It is not too late for our elected leaders to do the right thing by charter school students and families like ours who seek a high-quality public education that will afford the opportunity for a better future.
Just last summer, 75 percent of voters in the Republican primary sent a strong message that they supported school choice. Charter schools are one such choice and it seems only logical that education money for my child would follow him/her to his/her public school, traditional or charter, and that public school students within the same district would be funded equitably. There could be no better way for our state’s Republican majority to show they’re listening and taking actions on the priorities of Georgians.
Fixing the unfair funding allocation for charter schools is an investment in Georgia’s future that will pay off for today’s students and for generations to come. We can only hope it is an investment our leaders will ultimately choose to make.
Jennifer Langley chairs the board of directors of the BIA Charter School in Norcross.