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South Carolina charter schools don’t have equitable access to buildings and financing for capital projects, and that puts their subset of public school students at an educational disadvantage, according to a new report.
The Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina worked with the national alliance and a Colorado group of charter schools to analyze the charter school facility landscape in South Carolina.
The biggest facility issue facing the state’s charter schools is a lack of dedicated funding for buildings, said Mary Carmichael, executive director of the state charter school alliance. Charter schools don’t get any state money earmarked for facilities, and that means schools must pay for buildings with general operating money that could be going to classrooms.
More than 70 percent of the state’s charter schools put money toward facilities that could be paying for iPads or extra teachers.
“There’s less money available to go into classroom resources,” Carmichael said. “It’s having to make really tough decisions on how to allocate resources that the schools within the district are not having to do without.”
The disparity is significant, especially given the projected growth of the state’s charter schools, she said. About 95 percent of the state’s charter schools are looking to grow their enrollment during the next five years, and 15 new charter schools are slated to open in the state in 2014.
Some of the study’s other key findings include: the state’s charter school buildings are smaller than prescribed standards; physical education and recreational options are limited for the state’s charter school students; and 60 percent don’t have federally compliant kitchens where they can prepare hot meals for students.
Charleston County School District oversees eight charter schools, and the state Public Charter School District is responsible for three others that operate in the county. The school district has provided building space for three of its schools, while the other schools rent space. Only one, East Cooper Montessori Charter, has financed and built its own campus.
The concept for this study started in 2008 in Colorado, and the results of that report were used to make legislative changes in that state. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools worked with Colorado to use its facilities model survey in five other states, and the U.S. Department of Education has collected similar data for seven other states, including South Carolina. Officials surveyed 53 of the state’s 55 charter schools to produce this new report.
Carmichael said other states have done a far better job in terms of how charter schools are treated compared to traditional public schools. Charter school leaders are hoping lawmakers and the governor use this new information to change facility funding for charter schools.
Charter school leaders met with Gov. Nikki Haley’s staff to discuss this issue, and they’re hopeful she’ll propose solutions as part of her education reform plans.
The report includes eight recommendations to help address these challenges, with the top suggestions being ones that would give charter schools options for facilities revenue. Those include a per-pupil facilities allowance, a state grant program for charter school buildings, and equal access to existing facilities funding programs available to traditional schools.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.
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