March 2018 Newsletter

Delaware Charter Schools Struggling to Obtain and Access Funding for Facilities 

A new survey finds that Delaware public charter schools face significant challenges in securing and paying for adequate facilities. In 2016, the National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC), the Colorado League of Charter Schools (CLCS), the Delaware Charter Schools Network, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools collaborated to collect data about charter school facilities and facility expenditures in the state.

The report found that Delaware charter schools struggle to obtain space in district facilities, even in parts of the state where district buildings are vacant and underutilized. Using a district facility that is already designed to function as a school has practical and financial advantages, but only one charter school in the entire state resided in a district facility in 2015-2016. This is particularly striking considering that 18 percent of charter schools reported the presence of a nearby vacant district facility, and another 29 percent of charter schools reported the presence of a nearby district facility that was significantly underutilized. When charter schools rent space from for-profit organizations, the annual cost is an average of $1,545 per student for spaces that often lack full kitchen facilities, recreation spaces, and drop-off and pick-up areas.

The study identified 28 brick and mortar Delaware charter school facilities that were eligible to participate in this project, and all eligible facilities completed the survey. The Delaware study is the latest in a series of facilities reports the NCSRC has created on states across the country.

A previous NCSRC report based on this research explored aspects of charter schools’ experience in district facilities (see resource description below). We used the dataset from all the facilities surveys to explore the implications of district facility use. We found that 46 percent of charter schools in district facilities paid nothing; 41 percent paid what the district determined was the “use cost,” and 13 percent paid the district more than it cost the district for them to use the facility. However, the schools also reported that many of these facilities required improvements that the charter school had to complete before the facility was usable. Among several other issues, we also explored who authorized schools with district facilities and found that 87 percent of charter schools in district facilities were authorized by that district.

You can read the full Delaware report here.  

Charter School Access to Facilities a Serious Challenge

Charter school access to facilities is a serious and recurring challenge. The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has contributed a new study to this ongoing research topic in a study of state policies that affect access to district facilities. The report, “Opening the Schoolhouse Door: Helping Charter Schools Access Space in District-Owned Facilities” by Sean Gill and Tricia Maas, identified promising policies through expert interviews and then examined all state charter laws to explore how frequently states use these policies.

The policy options include those used relatively often, such as requiring districts to give charter schools access to “surplus” buildings and insisting such buildings be provided at a fair price. Other options are rare, such as having the state review the available district facilities or ensuring the length of a lease is matched to the full length of a school’s charter term. Whether policies were common or rare, their impact tended to rely on district discretion.

The report demonstrates that the presence of state laws is often inadequate to drive local action, and that a lack of clarity in the policies or enforcement provisions leave school districts in control of many decisions to share district facilities. 

The report references empirical studies of charter school facilities funded by U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (for example, the Delaware report described above and the study of districts in the resources below). Working with local partners and supported by the NCSRC, CLCS surveys charter schools in cities and states across the country about their facilities. A summary of these state-specific studies notes many of the advantages that come to charter schools located in district buildings, including lower costs that allow more money to go toward educational programs. In additional to budgetary advantages, district buildings also make it possible for schools to improve other aspects of the student experience through increased access to amenities like gymnasiums and kitchens that can provide meal programs.

Takeaway:

The NCSRC-supported surveys and later analysis, along with the recent CRPE policy analysis, all indicate the potential trade-offs of charter schools using district facilities for both charter school budgets and students’ experiences. Future analysis could further explore developments by charter schools and districts sharing facilities with schools they authorize, especially as districts explore district-charter collaboration or initiate efforts to accommodate a growing charter school market-share in their community.

NCSRC Resources

  • Finding Space: Charters in District Facilities: Accessing affordable facilities has long been identified as one of the most significant challenges facing charter schools. In response to this challenge, an array of policy and market-based approaches has emerged over the years. Examples of these approaches include public and private credit enhancement, tax-exempt bond financing, community development lending, commercial facilities development, state per pupil facilities aid, constitutional mandates for fair treatment, state facilities grant programs, federal tax credits, co-location with other public schools, and charter schools accessing vacant district facilities. This paper explores the data and experiences involved in one of those categories—charter school utilization of district-owned facilities.
  • Case Study: Camino Nuevo’s Kayne Siart Campus: Camino Nuevo's Kayne Siart Campus (formerly Harvard), is a high-performing K-8 charter school located near the MacArthur Park area in Los Angeles, California. The school is one of several Camino Nuevo Charter Academy schools. The case study explores how the school achieves outstanding success, including for its English Learners and students with disabilities. The school has a comprehensive approach that includes strategies to accurately determine whether a student’s challenges may stem more from their language needs or any disability.
  • Authorizer Evaluation Summary: An Analysis of Evaluations of Authorizer Quality: This report is based on a dataset of 43 charter school authorizers evaluated by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). The dataset was used to analyze the current state of authorizing policies and practices. The authorizers in the study tended to be larger and represented a substantial portion of the nation’s charter schools. The study found that larger authorizers are slightly more likely to implement practices that may reduce school autonomy. The report recommends that authorizers examine this issue as they grow to ensure they adequately protect school autonomy.

Recent NCSRC Partner Resources

  • Charter School Performance in New York: The study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) provides an in-depth examination of the results for charter schools in New York City from 2011-12 to 2015-16. The results of their latest analysis show that, on average, charter students in New York City gain an additional 23 days of learning in reading and an additional 63 days of learning in math over their district school peers.

  • State Legislative Session Highlights for Public Charter Schools: There were several historic public charter school policy wins across the country in 2017. This report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools provides a summary of this year’s state legislative activity on topics such as changes in states without charter laws, authorizing and accountability, funding and facilities, and other issues.
  • Assessing and Improving Special Education: A Program Review Tool for Schools and Districts Engaged in Rapid School Improvement: This report from the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd with support from the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, describes the importance of serving students with disabilities in school improvement efforts. Anecdotal reports from those who have worked extensively to turn around persistently low-performing schools, and at least one state study of such schools, suggest that the lowest-performing schools tend to have above-average enrollment of students with disabilities. Successful turnaround depends on a focused and data-driven effort to ensure that those students are provided with a high-quality special education program.

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