Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Charter Schools and Money

Update:  when pondering this question of charter schools and money, I recalled the wording about charter schools and district levies.  Now we all know that charters, whether new or conversion, may access levy dollars, whether capital or operations.

That likely extends to the Families & Education levy.  I have asked the City about this and yes, they are taking it up with the City Attorney.  My reading of the law (and Eric if you are out there, chime in) is yes.  Problem is the City does not give money via F&E levy.  (The district doesn't but it is somewhat easier to figure out a charter share.)  The City provides services so I guess the City could decide which services to give to a charter but it cuts up that piece of pie even more.

End of update.

The question gets asked, all the time, and especially now that we all know that under 1240, a private school can open/change to become a charter school.

The question is - can a private school operate on the same funds as a public school?

They can certainly try; they don't have to.  They can go after private money or grants, just like the school districts they sit in.

But here's a great example of a charter school in California that loves parents...and wants parents to show the love back.  The school relies on 20% of its budget coming from family contributions alone.  Their "Parental Commitment to Excellence" page at Pacific Collegiate School:

Parents are a vital part of the team at PCS. You play an essential role in both individual student success and overall school support. This is as true today as it was when the school was founded. PCS needs you!

Our Board, administration, faculty and staff strive for excellence in all that we do to serve our students and represent the school. We embrace our role as partners and strive for excellence and collaboration in all that we do.

We ask that you partner with us and make a commitment to excellence on behalf of our family and student in the following ways:

  • I understand that PCS is a charter school and is dependent upon donations to bridge the gap between state funding and the actual cost of providing my student(s) with an education of this caliber.  I acknowledge that each family is asked to donate $3,000 per student and 100% family participation is the goal of the Annual Fund Drive.
  • I will stay informed using the school website, reading school-related emails and checking PowerSchool on a regular basis.
  • I will communicate with my student’s teachers in a way consistent with the protocol I receive from them at Back to School Night.
  • I will fulfill the annual minimum of 40-hour parent volunteer requirement for my family.  I will register and report these activities and hours on the PCS website at the Volunteer Central Tracking System.
  • I will attend at least one Campus Work Day to help care for our school as part of my 40 hours of volunteer service.  (Work days are on Saturdays).
  • I will attend at least one Board Meeting during the school year.
You then have to complete a form for them.  It's unclear if this form, once filled out, is a promise or just an acknowledgement that the parent read it.  Of course, it is not legally binding BUT I'll bet they get rid of any student whose parent slacks off.

Also, to get into the lottery for this school you have to submit their enrollment form AND attend an information night.  This would probably be allowed under 1240.

Your child also has to maintain a C average to be promoted or not have to repeat a course.

This is the top-ranked charter school in California.  

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's located in Santa Cruz, CA. The demographic data show that it's around 75% white, and 85% of parents have a bachelor's or advanced degree. About 40% of the students are out-of-district. Interesting example.

Pacific Collegiate School Report

Anonymous said...

I have friends whose kids attend the Waldorf charter school in CA. Compared to paying tuition like they did in Seattle, they are happy to donate money to their new school and donate time. This was a family that received financial aid to attend the private school in Seattle. Even with donating in CA, the charter school is still less expensive.

HP

Anonymous said...

Not that Seattle Schools offers a suitable alternative to a private Waldorf school, but if every family of means had to pony up with $3-5K to contribute to their public school wouldn't a difference that make in what schools can offer as well? It fits with the conversation threads around here about PTA fundraising, district policies around how school donations can be spent, alternative/option schools and choice within the district, and our State's history of underfunding education.
CHM

Melissa Westbrook said...

HP, you kind of miss the point.

One, this charter can't operate on state money or even added dollars from grants, etc. So they have to ask the parents for money. (And many parents in SPS PTAs give a lot of money and time; these are just people with more money to give.)

Second, the charter's ability to do this. I thought it was supposed to be a level-playing field and that a charter was just like a public school except for freedom and autonomy.

I think that "freedom" allows them to do things that public schools cannot.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't think that I-1240 would allow a charter school to demand contributions of cash or time from student families.

The law does not, however, preclude charter schools from expelling students for any reason, which theoretically could include failure to contribute. It would be up to the charter school authorizer to police that. But the charter school authorizer wouldn't be policing that unless they chose to do so. Given the public concen over charter schools pushing out students, I would expect it is an area of attention for the authorizers. At least I would hope that it is.

Eric B said...

I think it would be very hard for the charter to either force parents to donate or to expel a student explicitly for not paying tuition. I-1240 is pretty clear that the charters may not charge tuition. They certainly may ask for donations (even in overbearing terms) and make students uncomfortable enough to leave or expel them for other (perhaps manufactured) grounds. Having the finance specialist calling you every two weeks asking for your donation and telling you that if you don't contribute, you might not belong at the school would certainly have a bearing on whether you stayed.

On the F&L levy, I'd have to look back at the initiative text. My recollection is that charters get a piece of the school levies, operating and capital. Whether that extends to the F&L levy is unclear, and may also depend on the wording of the F&L levy. If F&L says that it is for public schools, I-1240 defines charters as public schools*, so it would be hard to argue that they shouldn't get a piece of that. I don't think they could demand money if F&L doesn't give cash to schools, but they could certainly demand services that F&L provides to other schools.

Future F&L levies could potentially be written narrowly to support only Seattle Public Schools and not charters, but that would likely invite a legal challenge from charters or their supporters who want a piece of the money/services. It also would be tough to defend morally if the courts have decided that charters are in fact public schools*. I can't see how you would say that one group of public school students should get support, while another shouldn't.

* Whether charters are public schools is the big bone of contention in the lawsuit against them. That's the key to this argument as well as whether charters exist at all.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, no, you can't "demand" but if you check this the wording on the parent form at this particular school, it's pretty clear that's an expectation. It is legal to "ask" for this under 1240. You can't enforce it but that it is this strongly worded speaks to what some charters want from parents in their school.

Eric, it says any "local levy" and that's what gave me pause. I'll let you know what the City says.

Maureen said...

It does look like it will depend on how the City decides to define "public school." The levy funding process indicates that funds can go to "Seattle Public Schools" and certain "Community-Based Organizations."

My understanding is that just being a public school doesn't guarantee access to funds though, the money is supposed to go to schools with more need. So there is clearly a mechanism to turn down requests. Criteria seem to be " Organizations are evaluated in three areas: 1) key people, 2) previous experience, and 3) ability to use data to track success..."

So "previous experience" might preclude grants to charters for awhile.

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

How does this differ from our immersion schools and their fundraising goals? I'd like to know if this charter can actually refuse to re-enroll children the next year if their families did not meet their commitments.

Lake Washington School District has choice schools that require a specific number of volunteer hours. (Their Community School requires 100 hours per family each year.) They have required dues too (only $200 per year though.)

These are requests we might not like to see charters make - but I don't know how much we can complain if our public schools are already doing it.

Lynn

Melissa Westbrook said...

Lynn, well, I read the McDonald plea for money and yes, it sounded a lot like this.

However, charters can make up any reason they like to exit a child. They might not say, "You didn't give the money we need" but they can say "we need more parent participation from you and you are not meeting our standards."

No PTA or regular public school can do that.

Lynn, I cannot believe any public school can "require" volunteer hours or "dues". I saw the "dues" page and it says "voluntary".

It's all in the high-pressure wording but charters can exact a penalty that no regular public schools can.