Some of you may already know this, but a good portion of my day is spent working with charter schools in New Jersey and trying to find ways for them to purchase, lease, or renovate school facilities. If you don’t know, charter schools are free, public schools that whose goal is to provide a better education than the traditional public school system. By and large, these schools meet or exceed their local district’s performance on standardized testing and some of the best charter schools (which are located in some of the worst areas of the state) have track records of sending 100% of their high school graduates to college.
They’re a pretty good option for those parents living in an area where they do not trust the local district and cannot afford private school for their kids.
What has always amazed me about charter schools in New Jersey, though, is how they are placed so far behind the starting line and yet still achieve the success that they achieve. Alexis King, the founder and lead person of Hope Academy Charter School in Asbury Park, puts it best in a recent op-ed:
The original New Jersey law called for charter public schools to receive 90 percent of funding for each child in a traditional district school. This has not happened across the board. Statewide in New Jersey’s 62 charter public schools, children are funded on average at 78 percent and in some schools as low as 65 percent of district school funding.
But for Hope Academy, where we teach children in kindergarten through eighth grade, the state has reduced funding in the proposed state budget from about $14,000 per child this year to less than $12,000, even though it provides nearly $26,000 per child in Asbury Park’s district schools. So for us the ratio is now less than 50 percent and barely half of what the original charter school law says our children should have.
There are a few different things going on here. First, I’d prefer to leave the conversation about whether or not more money should be spent on urban students than suburban students. To a large degree, I think the answer is clearly “no,” but such a simplistic response doesn’t take into account all of the complexities of the current school funding formula.
Second, and more importantly and germane to this conversation, is the fact that a quality school like Hope Academy is getting their funding cut to such a dramatic degree. Unreal. It’s hard to imagine that this is allowed to take place in a state that is so liberal that it’s supreme court has suggested that each student has a right to an equal education (where is that in the Constitution again?). For such a progressive state, this is shocking.
This conversation, though, will likely be overshadowed by the fact that the entire school funding formula has been the focus of debate. Personally, I think the entire school funding formula needs radical change from the bottom up.