Funding for Memphis Charter Schools May Take Major Hit in April
March 23, 2010
The school district says it will cut $470 per charter student for the rest of the budget year, which ends July 1, if it does not get $50 million that the city pledged for this year and $57 million it cut in 2008.
"This is not just an inconvenience or a little bit of a discomfort. This is the kind of measure that could shut the schools down," said Matt Throckmorton, executive director of the Tennessee Charter School Association.
Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, the city’s oldest and largest charter, would lose $280,000.
"It’s incredibly difficult. The bottom line, we can’t spend money we don’t have," said Harold Wingood, executive director. "Whatever the outcome, it won’t be pretty."
Charter leaders got the word Thursday and worked their e-mails and phones to turn out parents and supporters for today’s City Council meeting. It starts at 3:30 p.m.
"We may not stay for the full meeting, but we are going to say what we need to say with signs and petitions," said Rev. Anthony Anderson, executive director of Memphis Business Academy. "I promise you, we will vote some people out of office if they fail to make this adjustment."
The school board was to approve next year’s budget Monday night but delayed after a meeting with its attorney, Dorsey Hopson.
"We have to assume we are going to get that money because we won (lawsuits seeking the withheld money)," Hopson said. "But I also think we would not be doing our due diligence if the board did not consider what they would do if they don’t get money."
Charter schools receive 10 payments a year from the school district. This year’s payments reflected what the district expected to receive in revenue.
Because the district has not received the council’s contribution, it says it must cut back to reflect what has actually been contributed.
"Because they already paid us at the higher rate, we’re going to be hit really hard in April and June to make that difference up," said Janis Jesse, MASE chief operating officer. "We’re scrambling."
Harold Collins, City Council president, finds it interesting that MCS is willing to reduce other schools’ budgets but sued when the same was done to it.
"I find it to be just totally wrong for MCS to do this, especially when they are in the middle of presenting a new budget with $61 million in new spending," he said. "I think the community ought to be outraged that MCS would do something like that.
"MCS has been great at diverting attention off themselves. They continue to increase budget and staff. They continue to not meet state measurements for graduation and attendance. They continue to have thousands and thousands of children truant, but no one seems to make them accountable."
Under charter law, local school districts are to pass 100 percent of their per-pupil state and local education funds to the charter where the child is enrolled.
But because school districts are allowed to use their own funding formulas, the payments vary across the state.
In Memphis, where it costs $10,394 per year to educate the average child, the district pays charter operators $7,633 per child.
In Nashville, where it costs about $100 more a year to educate a child, charter schools receive $8,300 — or about $400 more per child when state funding differences are taken into account.
The proposed cuts, on top of the funding disparity, "mean our schools are not going to be able to make payroll for the last month or so," Throckmorton said.