Barry Finegold once had congressional ambitions. They are now history, because the state senator has taken the lead for school privatization. Finegold, along with State Representative Russell Homes, sponsored a bill to lift all caps in what the charter school lobbyists describe as the 30 lowest performing districts in the state. According to the Boston Globe:
A group of charter school advocates, business leaders, and legislators is pushing to abolish a state-imposed cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in Boston and other low-performing school districts, under legislation expected to be filed Friday on Beacon Hill.
The proposal would join a growing list of bills filed this week seeking to overhaul public education, making education one of the highest-profile issues that the Legislature is likely to confront this session.
Abolishing the charter school cap is just one aspect of the legislation, which is being sponsored by Senator Barry Finegold of Andover and Representative Russell Holmes of Mattapan, both Democrats.
I don’t want to get into the merits of charter schools. Some are really good. Some are awful. All, in Massachusetts, are funded by garnishing the sending districts’ local aid accounts. All are exempt from the whims of the legislative funding process, as the funding formula is an entitlement.
Let’s do some quick math.
In FY 2012, Lawrence spent $148,936,607 to educate 13,667 students. This is an average of $10,898 per child.
In FY 2012, charter schools educated 916.2 students at a cost of $11,035,514. This is an average of $12,045 per child.
Charter schools don’t pay to educate high-cost medically involved special needs students. Charter schools don’t have trailing pension and retiree health care obligations. Lawrence received $1,201,030 in charter facilites aid and an aid account that helps to pay for recent increases in charter enrollment. We can go back and forth on the implications of the cost and charter aid, but let’s look at the hard and fast numbers.
Charter kids: $12,045 per child. Public school kids: $10,898 per child.
What happens if the charter cap is lifted, and 12,000 students head for the charters?
The 12,000 students take (12,000 * $12,045) $144,540,000 with them. What’s left for Lawrence? $4,396,607 to educate the remaining 1,667 students, or $2,637 per student. Can’t do very much with that, especially if the remaining students include some very high cost special education students.
Yes, this is an extreme example, but it illustrates the inequity of the charter school funding formula. If the governor goes after state aid for districts with 9C cuts, the charter entitlements remain, and they are still deducted in full from the sending district’s aid accounts. If state aid is level funded or reduced, the charter formula remains unchanged. Public school district funding is subject to legislative appropriation, charter funding is a formulaic entitlement.
Senator Finegold’s move to lift caps without reforming charter school funding is a prescription to hurt the children remaining in the public system. It hurts kids. It should also hurt Senator Feingold’s career.