Charter schools in Delaware receive funding based on the spending of districts.

Charter schools hope report sparks more transparent funding

Jarek RutzEducation, Headlines

Charter schools in Delaware receive funding based on the spending of districts.

Charter schools in Delaware receive funding based on the spending of districts.

Although they are not traditional district schools, Delaware’s charter schools are still public, which means they will be affected by any changes from the long-awaited funding assessment  released last week.

The $700,000 report by the American Institutes for Research was required as part of a settlement of a lawsuit charging the state was not adequately or fairly educating children.

Now the state must consider the overarching recommendation to pump between $590 million to $1 billion more into public education.

RELATED: Adding $500M+ more into education likely matter for legislature

Kendall Massett

Kendall Massett

Although presenters at the release event barely talked about the 200-page report’s impact on the state’s 23 charter schools, Kendall

Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, has some thoughts.

“Charter schools do not want to be charter schools to get rid of district schools,” she said. “That it is not our intention that every school be a charter school. We are part of the public school landscape and if this formula is good for all public schools, we’re in.”

She said last week’s report release was encouraging because it acknowledged that charter schools do not receive the same amount of funding as district schools. 

Funding for charters 

Charters do not receive capital funding, and the amount of local funding they receive is a based on the home district of their students, not the location of the school itself.

In addition, that allotment is based on how much local funds the district spent the prior year. 

If a student resides in Cape Henlopen School District, but attends Newark Charter, Newark Charter receives an allotment this year based on how much Cape Henlopen spent locally last year. 

And that funding would be different from a student who lives within Christina School District but attends Newark Charter. 

Essentially, the funding charters get is a cumulative amount based on the spending of each student’s residential district.

This creates problems.

In the prior example, if Cape Henlopen spends a ton of local money one year, but then cuts their spending of local funds the next, Newark Charter would have to prepare their school year knowing, on relatively short notice, that their funding will drop.

“You have to move things around,” Massett said. “If you had a capital project that you had been saving up for, that gets pushed off.”

For bigger projects, she said, like a school upgrading its HVAC system, charters don’t get state funding, so they have to save money. That’s difficult when the charters budget fluctuates year to year and is dependent on the spending of other districts a year prior. 

In that case, she said, a charter is left to pray that the HVAC system still works for another year while it tries to raise funds, through various efforts, sometimes philanthropic dollars.

This also creates staffing difficulties, Massett said, using the example that a charter might have to go without an extra counselor one year because of a drastic drop in funding. 

Moving forward

Massett said the funding report left her focused on four components: equitable funding, transparency, predictability and flexibility.

“Those are the top things that need to be taken from this and I’m hopeful,” she said. 

Even so, flexibility, which is a staple of the success of charter schools, needs to have guardrails in place, Massett said. 

For example, if more money is pumped into Delaware’s public schools, the additional funding might not be beneficial if a school uses it to just hire six or seven more employees for the administrative office. 

“There has to be a better governance model,” Massett said. “I would love to get our school district boards to work and train the same governance training that we train our schools on. You can’t just have flexibility for flexibility sake, there must be accountability.”

Flexibility is crucial, though, she said.

“We’ve got to get to work on the flexibility around all things, and we are getting more and more and more pigeonholed and told what to do,” she said. “Our educators and our parents are the two groups that know our students the best.”

This is how charter schools were started, she said, with those two groups coming together, talking and finding what’s best for the students. 

The report included dozens of interviews from stakeholders, including charter and district leaders.

On page 10, there’s an anonymous quote from a district administrator that said there’s an issue with spending transparency among charter schools. 

Massett said this is not true.

Sometimes, she said, there is an incorrect belief that there’s a big pot of money for charters and no one knows where that money goes.

“Oh yeah, you do,” she said. “Because we have to, by law, get an independent financial audit, so our monies are looked at every year. That goes to the state. That’s part of the financial framework.”

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