Accelify Blog

Will Charters Sink Ed Funds?

March 12, 2010

With the clock ticking toward the midnight Thursday end of this session, lawmakers still have at least one major education funding issue to resolve: charter schools.

Legislative leaders and the governor agree on the vast majority of the education budget the Senate passed late Wednesday, but at least one major provision will be new to the House. The bill, SB2, would shift some of the burden for paying for charter schools from the state to school districts.

Now, the state pays charters "local replacement" money because they cannot bond or levy taxes like school districts can. Districts now only pay about 25 percent of their revenues from certain taxes to charters, and the state pays the rest of the local replacement money. SB2, however, would slowly shift that entire cost to school districts over 13 years. Only school districts with students in charters would pay.

Bill sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said it’s time parents’ local tax dollars follow their students to charter schools.

"Districts will no longer be getting a bonus for students who leave a district school to go to a charter school," Stephenson said. "They will start thinking, I believe, in a more competitive fashion because they will want to retain those students and start thinking, ‘What is it we need to do to ensure those students don’t l eave for a charter school?’"

House Majority Whip Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said late Wednesday that Republicans in the House had not yet taken a position on the provision. But House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, expressed personal misgivings.

"My position is I think this is very late in the session to have these kind of huge policy statements appear," Clark said in a telephone interview. "I’m very concerned that [charter funding provision] is in that bill."

Clark predicted a "very lively and lengthy discussion" Thursday in the House.

It’s an issue that’s sure to cause some controversy within school districts. Lawmakers tried to pass a somewhat similar measure two years ago, but only succeeded in passing the 25 percent requirement.

"It just takes money from our coffers," said Tamara Lowe, with the Utah School Boards Association. "It’s a state-mandated program; it should be taken care of by the state and not the local districts."

But Judi Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education, said the change could ultimately lead to more equity in charter school and school district funding.

"We’re talking about a constant battle each year over how much the state can afford in local replacement money rather than those local dollars following the students," Clark said.

Brian Allen, chairman of the State Charter School Board, said he doesn’t actually think the change would hurt or help charter schools, saying it’s more of a fight about who should have to pay for them.

Most of the rest of the education budget bill is settled. It would cut a net of about $10 million from programs that fund new school buildings, new library books and leave some other cuts up to districts.

It also would not fund 11,000 new students expected in schools next year, though lawmakers say the amount of money spent per student would not change. School districts would absorb the cost of those 11,000 new students in other areas.

Late Wednesday, Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, attempted to include a measure in the bill that would have prohibited districts from paying educators who leave the classroom for union duties, but Senators rejected that addition.

The House had already defeated a similar bill Tuesday. Several Senate Democrats also attempted, but failed, to shift money from some programs to others, such as library books and reading specialists.

The Senate passed SB2 by 19-8. The House hears the bill today. Charting a different path

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools often started by groups of parents or community members who want to operate outside the traditional education system.

They are subject to the same laws and regulations as other public schools regarding civil rights, health and safety, student fees and screening of employees and volunteers. But they are exempt from existing negotiated agreements with teachers and other employees. Educators in charter schools must hold valid teaching certificates or meet alternative requirements set by the State Board of Education.