By Allie Friedman, Deputy Director of Buffalo ReformED:
Charter Schools face a daunting reality: the possibility of a reinstated “funding freeze.” These schools, which already receive about half of the per pupil funding the district receives, are at risk of being “frozen” back to 2008-2009 levels (two years prior). Though the “freeze” has been lifted, Buffalo continues to illegally pay the charters at the “frozen” rates, nearly $1500 less per student. This is simply unfair, as charters continue to send children to college, while the district defends a 54% graduation rate.
We’re bombarded with article after article about the logistics of charter school funding: charters get less and have to cover building expenses; traditional schools get more to cover rising pension and legacy costs and buildings are free. We spend too much time arguing over funding and myths and we forget why we’re arguing in the first place: great schools that are held accountable for educating our students. I’ve heard Superintendent Williams on countless occasions say, “It’s for the children” or “We’re hurting our children” or “The district has enough money, let’s do what’s right for the children.” In an educated world where adults are pinned against adults and excuses run amuck, it seems that as we strive to save children, we’re leaving them behind.
Charter schools, created by community leaders who were upset with a persistently failing status quo, provide a better option for WNY students. By trading accountability for autonomy, charters are required to academically perform or they are SHUT DOWN. These institutions are able to be innovative with the curriculum and work to fulfill each student’s unique style of learning. Charters are making an impact in WNY by better educating our students and challenging the district to do better. So, why is it that these schools are punished for tightening their belts and doing more with less?
The “freeze” has made it impossible for Tapestry Charter School to give its dedicated and valuable staff any increase in salary, although it continues to ask them to do more. “As a vibrant community of learners and leaders we require a significant investment of time from our teaching staff to attend professional development to perfect their craft,” Executive Director Joy Pepper said. Tapestry, a school which in 2010 sent 100% of its senior class to college, in large part due to the quality of teachers at Tapestry.
Oracle Charter School has already laid off staff members and Head of School Julie Jackson-Forsberg said that Oracle has been unable to replace materials and technologies as they break or become obsolete.
The district cries about pension costs. Jackson-Forsberg explained how Oracle has been unable to go into the Teacher Retirement System, “even though it’s the one thing teachers really want, because the pension represents an uncontrolled cost which could break the budget.” “The district is making the argument for us before we start our next [union] negotiations session,” Jackson-Forsberg said. “We had to plan ahead and make decisions that put student first over adult interests. That is the flexibility charter schools have.”
The “freeze’ has forced Enterprise Charter School to lay off a reading coach and a reading specialist. Cutting the reading program, an area of need at ECS, will no doubt hurt student achievement. “It seems that Enterprise is being punished because we do more with less,” Executive Director Jill Norton said. “I understand that traditional public schools are burdened with legacy costs, but as a result of the freeze, charters will be facing a devastating future.”
Enterprise will continue to make staffing cuts until it can’t deliver programs it set out to provide and is forced to close. “It is a shame that in a school that serves more English Language Learners and learning disabled students than the average Buffalo Public School (usually a criticism of charters) that we aren’t given the same opportunities to be successful,” Norton said.
Charter schools should not be punished for creating competition, educating students, and sending children to college. Charter schools are NOT the problem and it’s time they stop bearing the brunt of the district’s financial woes. The Legislature and the Governor must continue to work to reform education and prioritize student achievement and college and career readiness; charter schools fit the bill and their funding should not be cut as the district’s costs rise.
*The State Legislature is being called into a Special Session this Monday (Nov. 29th) and is expected to vote on re-instating the funding freeze on charter schools. Charter schools in NYS do not receive any of the federal edujobs money and a very small percentage of the race to the top money.
Photo: Tapestry Charter High School opened its doors to over 50 community members Friday morning.