Charter schools have been an alternative to mass public education since the 1980s and have expanded impressively in both popularity and enrollment since then. For nearly forty years, parents have been choosing smaller classrooms and more subject-focused learning because they agree that this is the better method. Due to an overlap in teaching philosophies, many people confuse charter schools with private schools, assuming that they cost tuition in order to function, but charters are public schools with a license to act independently. They are, in fact, an extension of the public school system and gain many of the same funding benefits as a traditional public school. In short, charter schools are public schools.
Direct Funding As A Public School
The chartering program was put together as a way for communities to decide on an alternate school model that can still fall within their rights for free public education. Charter school students still have to take and pass state tests, and the funding they receive is determined by the same metrics as mass public schools. In California, approximately 73% of all individual charter schools receive direct funding from the federal or state government according to the CDE, and almost all of them are funded completely or additionally with local property taxes. Except for the 8 all-charter districts, the amount of public school funding that goes to each charter school varies by district and to a certain extent is determined by understandable criteria. Because charter schools help take the population burden off of central public schools, they are granted the same per-student funding that the public schools would with the same number of students.
Direct Funding Per Student
To start with, all schools get a slice of the public school district funding based on the number of students who attend, just as the non-charter schools would. In addition, the government recognizes that some children need extra care from their school and is willing to provide for that, chartered or otherwise. The free and reduced lunch program allows kids from low-income families to benefit from school breakfasts and lunches without adding an extra financial burden on the schools that feed them. Along the same vein, public schools get direct funding allotments for each student that is homeless or in foster care, or needs to learn English in order to catch up with their age-mates. There are also additional grants available if a charter school's population consists of more than 55% of children that fall into these categories to enable the school to fund assistive programs.
Funding for Facilities
Funding charter school facilities is a fairly large debate between states and school districts. Many places feel that charter schools should be responsible for their own facility construction and maintenance. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports that current state policies include:
- "Providing a per-pupil facilities allowance to charter schools,
- Creating a charter school facility grant program,
- Providing a charter school facility revolving loan program,
- Ensuring that charter schools have equal access to all of the existing state facilities programs for district-run public schools in a state, and
- Providing charter schools with access to local property tax dollars generated for facilities."
Currently in California there is a Charter School Facilities Program which will supply a total of $500 million for charter school facility construction, and will provision for rehabilitation every fifteen years. It adds that should the needed funds exceed the allotted amount, a "preference points system and funding matrix" will be implemented. Maintenance, on the other hand, still appears to be tasked to the charter schools themselves.
Between their odd position in the public school system and their dedication to higher quality learning, charter schools are always in need of more funding. While this could be said of any school, charter schools end up covering much more of their own overhead than normal public schools. Often, the communities that chose to form the school in the first place will donate to keep it alive and their children educated with preferred methods. Parents are not the only source of donations as it's not unheard of for local businesses to contribute to support their community schools.
There are dozens of specialty grants available to schools who go out of their ways to meet the qualifications and apply for them. While it can't be assumed that all charter schools, or any particular school, is being funded by a grant, you can be certain that many of them have attained or are working to attain one. Because these grants are in place to help children and improve the quality of their educations, seeking these grants not only helps to fund a charter school, but also helps them improve their programs.
School fundraisers are a time-honored tradition. Almost every school and the extracurricular activities within them have their own yearly fundraiser to go along with the Girl Scout cookies and Boy Scout popcorn people are already buying. Many schools may choose to host events like carnivals and expos alternately or in addition to catalog fundraisers. These give the kids a chance to show off their projects and organizational skills while raising money through concessions and prize tickets for the school.
In the realm of funding, charter schools are a lot more similar to traditional public schools (school district schools) than many people may assume. They don't charge tuition and while parents often contribute to the school funds, they do so through donations and participation in the regular fundraisers. Like public schools, receive government funding per student and qualify for educational grants, but they also need to worry about facility and maintenance costs not covered by school districts. If you'd like to contribute to your local charter school, donations are always deeply appreciated, but a donation of time can be just as valuable. Charter schools exist for the benefit of their communities thus are naturally benefitted by community support.