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Local: Education

Critics: Charters cheated out of funds

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Local,DC,Education,Rachel Baye

Public charter schools do not get the same amount of funds as their traditional public school counterparts, which severely affects their ability to acquire buildings and pay competitive wages, charter school leaders told members of the D.C. Council on Thursday.

The District funds all public schools based on the number of students they enroll, so a public charter school and a traditional public school with the same numbers of students in the same grades should get roughly the same amount of money each year.

But including construction costs, charter schools received an average $16,361 per student, roughly $13,000 less than the $29,145 that schools in the DC Public Schools system received, according to a recent report by the Walton Family Foundation.

The disparity results from other D.C. agencies providing services for free to DCPS schools that charter schools have to pay for, said Robert Cane, executive director of the advocacy group Friends of Choice in Urban Schools.

For example, DCPS gets $40 million from the D.C. Department of General Services to maintain its buildings, said Public Charter School Board Executive Director Scott Pearson. DCPS also gets free legal services, while charter schools have to pay.

As a result, charter schools have trouble paying for building expansions when enrollment grows.

Though charter schools get an additional $3,000 per student to pay toward their buildings, that amount has been held steady for four years while building costs rose, said Kimberly Campbell, chief of staff at Friendship Public Charter School.

Offering competitive teacher salaries is also a struggle, said Richard Pohlman, chief of operations and policy at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. "Last year, salaries and benefits represented approximately 70 percent of our operating budget."

The issue is one that Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith said her office is studying. The report is being produced by the Finance Project and is expected to be completed in September.

However, members of the Council's Education Committee criticized Smith's office's delay in fixing the problem.

"We need the application of common sense," said Councilman David Catania, who chairs the Education Committee. "It matters that each child in our city is entitled to the same amount of money, period."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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