charter funding

Study: Private dollars give Memphis charter schools edge in per-pupil funding

A new study says charter schools in Memphis are bucking a national trend in per-pupil funding, thanks mostly to philanthropic support that has them eclipsing total revenue received by traditional schools.

A University of Arkansas report released Wednesday found that charter schools in the 15 cities studied received significantly less public funding per pupil than did traditional schools. But Memphis was unique because private sources filled the gap — and then some, resulting in 9 percent more funding per student than for the city’s traditional counterparts.

“(Memphis charters have) been great at raising funds. They’ve basically fundraised themselves to parity,” said Patrick Wolf, a researcher at the university’s School Choice Demonstration Project.

The report was funded by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation. (Disclosure: Chalkbeat also receives funding from the Walton Foundation. You can see our full list of supporters here.)

The report is based on charter school audits from 2014 and says that private funding accounted for $1,446 per student, or nearly 14 percent of the sector’s revenue in Memphis. Without it, the funding level would be 3 percent less than received by the city’s traditional schools, according to the researchers, whose methodology has been questioned in previous years.

Charter school advocates long have complained about a gap in public funding between charter and traditional schools. And last summer, a state comptroller’s report said it’s unclear if Tennessee charter schools are receiving the right amount of money from their local districts.

In Memphis, which has most of the state’s charter schools, the issue has come under a microscope, especially related to the cost of facilities. In response to that concern, Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget for next year invests $6 million annually for charter facilities statewide.

Charter schools were established in 1991 in Minnesota as a publicly funded tool for innovation. In exchange for the promise of better academic outcomes, they receive greater autonomy. Undergirding the movement is also the expectation of more financial efficiency.

That makes the Memphis finding unusual. The researchers say the city’s charter school leaders have gotten better at raising money since the project’s last report that examined 2011 revenues. Still, Wolf said it would be better if they didn’t have to.  

“Is that sustainable in the long run?” he asked. If public funding for charters matched traditional schools, charter schools could “focus more of the administrative activity on education rather than funding.”

Memphis charter leaders said the report paints a rosier picture than the reality for charter operators who have been on their own to pay for facilities. That issue makes for an apples-and-oranges comparison, said Luther Mercer, Memphis advocacy director for Tennessee Charter School Center.

“(Shelby County Schools) money goes straight to academics. The charters have to split up that amount to go to capital and instruction,” said Mercer, who also co-chairs a committee of district and charter leaders working to sort out issues like these. “If I have $9,000 splitting it two ways and you have $9,000 split one way, you have more money.”

The University of Arkansas group’s previous studies on charter funding inequities have come under fire for methodology used by its researchers. The Tennessee Department of Education has instructed Shelby County Schools to use a different enrollment year than used by the researchers to calculate how much money to allocate to charter schools, which could result in lower amounts of funding than cited in Wednesday’s report.

breaking

A student is in custody after Noblesville West Middle School shooting that injured another student and teacher

Police asses the scene outside Noblesville High School after a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School on May 25, 2018 (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

A male student shot and injured a teacher and another student at Noblesville West Middle School on Friday morning, police said.

Noblesville police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the shooting suspect asked to leave a class and returned armed with two handguns. The suspect, who police said appeared to be uninjured, is in custody and has not been identified by police.

The teacher, 29-year-old Jason Seaman, was in “good” condition Friday evening at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, police said. The female student, who was not identified by police, was in critical condition at Riley Hospital for Children.

News outlets were reporting that Seaman intervened to stop the shooter, but authorities said they could not confirm that on Friday afternoon.

The Noblesville Police Department has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school who responded to the incident, Jowitt said. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies also responded to the shooting.

“We do know that the situation resolved extremely quickly,” Jowitt said. “We don’t know what happened in the classroom, so I can’t make any kinds of comments about what [the resource officer’s] involvement was.”

Students were evacuated to Noblesville High School on Friday morning, where families met them.

Jowitt said an additional threat was made at the high school, but they had “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Police continue to investigate. They said they do not believe there are additional suspects. Noblesville Police spokesman Bruce Barnes could not say how the student acquired the guns, but he said search warrants have been issued.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students. Noblesville is a suburb of Indianapolis, about 20 miles north in Hamilton County. The district has about 10,500 students.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

“We’ve had these shootings around the country,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “You just never think it could happen in Noblesville, Indiana. But it did.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer praised the “heroic” efforts of school staff and students, saying they followed their training on how to react to an active shooter situation.

Barnes also hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

Watch the press conference:


A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene:

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”