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State Considers Shifting Charter-School Tuition Costs To Local School Systems


December 06, 2009

HARTFORD - The State Board of Education is considering four proposals that would overhaul the law governing charter schools, including one that would shift the cost of tuition to local school systems.

The changes, meant to expand the number of charter schools, also are designed to increase the state's chances to get as much as $150 million in school-reform grants from the federal Race to the Top competition. States across the country are competing for $5 billion in federal stimulus money set aside to encourage school reform by expanding charter schools and tying teacher pay to student performance.

The most controversial proposal essentially would require towns to pay tuition for students attending the state's 18 charter schools. Now, the state pays $9,300 for each child attending a charter school. Under the new plan, cities and towns would pay for each local student who goes to a charter school.

The theory is that the towns would use money from state education cost-sharing grants to help pay for charter school tuition. Rather than pay for the child to attend a local school, the money would "follow the child" to the charter school.

Advocates say that plan would put charter schools on equal financial footing with traditional schools because charters are now given less money, on average, per student.

Critics, however, say the change would drain money from local school districts, which must still pay for buildings, salaries and other fixed costs.

State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor, a charter school advocate, supports the proposed changes and said the state should also look at per-student funding for other types of schools, such as magnet and vocational-agricultural schools.

"It ought to be all one system. They're all public school kids," Taylor said.

Michael Sharpe, president of the Connecticut Charter School Network, said he was pleased the state board was tackling the issue and trying to devise an equitable way to pay for charter schools.

But Janet Finneran, vice chairwoman of the state board, said such a formula would be so costly in her hometown of Bethany that it would be detrimental to the rest of the school system. If, for example, 10 Bethany students attended a charter school, the town would have to pay about $100,000 under the new formula. That is about 1 percent of Bethany's entire school budget, she said.

"That would mean the rest of the schools would suffer for it," she said. "We would have to cut staff and increase class sizes. I just think that's unacceptable."

Mark Waxenberg, director of government relations for the Connecticut Education Association, the state teachers union, called the cost-shifting proposals unrealistic and irresponsible.

Another proposal the board is considering calls for increasing the amount of money the state pays per pupil for tuition from $9,300 to $10,306. The state argues that the $9,300 rate is low and should be increased to match the average amount towns spend per pupil. Increasing the per-pupil expenditure by $1,000 per student in all charter schools will cost the state more than $5 million, raising the total state budget allocation for charter schools to more than $50 million, he said.

Waxenberg said shifting the fiscal responsibility for charter schools to the towns would create financial hardships for local districts. The 22 towns that send more than 10 students to charter schools would pay anywhere from $66,242 in Montville to as much as $3.7 million in New Haven, he said.

"We cannot expect to place the lion's share of responsibility for charters on the shoulders of local taxpayers," Waxenberg said.

To promote charter school growth, the board is also considering lifting a 300-student cap on charter school enrollment and changing state law to allow local school districts to form local charter schools with independent education contractors.

The board is expected to discuss the various proposals at its next meeting, scheduled for some Jan. 6, shortly before state Commissioner of Education Mark McQuillan hopes to brings at least of the proposals to the legislature.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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