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Equal Funding for All Public School Students

When educational choice is offered to families in a public school district, a commonly held belief is that money follows the child to the school where the child chooses to enroll.  However, this is a misconception that unfairly leaves some public school students with fewer resources than their peers.

The disparity in funding between charter schools and district-run schools is the result of the Illinois charter funding formula set in statute, which allows charter schools be funded at only 75% of a district’s per pupil funding.  This funding formula is an outlier across the country—no other state allows for charter public school students to receive 25% less than district-run public school students.  For instance, Indiana, Michigan, California, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and New York all commit to allocating within 5% of what district-run public schools receive.  Given the fact that charter schools serve the same public school students, they deserve an equitable amount of funding as their peers at district-run public schools.

To address this issue, in 2013 the Illinois General Assembly passed a resolution that called for the convening of the Task Force on Charter School Funding to examine the disparities in funding between charter schools and district-run schools.

INCS urges members of the General Assembly to adopt laws that move all public schools toward equity.  

Resources on this issue:  

Illinois Charter School Funding Task Force Report 2014

Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands, a 2014 study by the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform

Facilities Challenges for Charters

While instructional and operational funding constitutes the majority of charter school funding, there are other crucial sources of revenue for which charter schools may or may not qualify.  The two most common sources of excluded revenue in charter school statutes are capital costs and transportation.

In Chicago, the lack of comparable facilities funding exacerbates the differences in funding. Unlike district-run schools, charter schools in Illinois have limited access to capital funds for facilities from local or state sources. While some charter schools do operate in a district owned facility for a nominal rent, other charter schools pay for facilities out of general operating funds.

The resulting inequity is born out in CPS’s budget allocations. Charter schools in CPS buildings received NO facilities payment.  In fact, charter schools in CPS buildings experienced a deduction to their per pupil payment by the cost of maintenance and operations of the building.[1]  Charter schools in non-CPS buildings only get about half of what the true cost is to occupy the building.

The practical result of these policies is that charter operators use a substantial portion of their operating funding to pay for facilities costs.  Chicago charter schools routinely spend an additional 15-20% of their operating funds on facilities—funds that the district has available for direct instruction.

INCS strongly advocates for all children to have equitable access to the facilities and resources needed for a high-quality education.

[1]Charter schools located in a CPS owned school building do have the option to opt out of CPS maintenance services, however are still expected to pay for such expenses through per pupil dollars.

Preserve Independent Charter School Authorizer in Illinois

In 1996, the Illinois Charter School Law was enacted and included an appeal option to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) if a charter applicant was denied by the local school district.  In 2011, the General Assembly created the Illinois State Charter School Commission and transitioned the charter appeals process from ISBE to the Commission.  This legislation passed with broad bipartisan support because an independent authorizer is a national best practice for states with charter school laws. Among the 42 states with charter schools, 32 allow for authorizers other than school districts.
INCS strongly supports a charter school law that aligns with national best practices and allows for an independent authorizer to be a meaningful appeals route for charter applicants denied by the local school district for reasons other than the merits of their application.

Raise the Cap on Charter Schools

Illinois law contains a limit of 120 charter schools, with a maximum of 75 charters in Chicago and 45 charters in the rest of the state. It reserves five of the charters in Chicago for drop-out recovery schools. Illinois law includes a moratorium on virtual charter schools outside of Chicago until December 31, 2016.  There are currently 69 charters taken in Illinois against the cap operating 150 school campuses – 54 in Chicago (including one drop-out recovery charter school) and 15 in the rest of the state.  Prior to 2003, Chicago charter schools were granted a replicating charter, which allowed for multiple campuses to operate under one charter agreement.

INCS strongly opposes the arbitrary cap on charter schools. Every child should have access to a high-quality education and should not be hampered by political factors in Springfield.

Charter School Renewal Terms

While a charter may be initially granted for 10 years, the current law provides that a charter can only be renewed in incremental periods not to exceed five school years.  This short term of the charter renewal prevents charter schools from accessing the debt market.

INCS supports the 2013 Task Force on Charter School Funding’s recommendation that would extend the maximum length of the charter term to give charters a better chance of securing debt for facilities financing, in exchange for meeting all standards for academic, organizational, and financial performance set forth by the authorizer.