November 15, 2011 California's ongoing fiscal crisis continues to impact families, businesses, and schools alike. Although both traditional public schools and charter public schools have been devastated by cuts to education, there remains a clear pattern of funding inequity for charter schools in California. It is an issue that has been exacerbated by the rounds of budget cuts the state has enacted for the past few years, and an issue that CCSA focuses many of our advocacy efforts around. We know that every dollar counts.
CCSA has achieved wins at the legislative level that result in more funds for charters and has been successful in defeating legislation that would cost charters dearly.
Specifically, in 2011, CCSA worked to:
- Secure an increase to the Charter School Facility Grant Program (SB 740 Program),
- Ensure that charter schools' base categorical block grant funding also received growth for new schools and that new and growing charter schools retained the supplemental block grant of $127 per pupil,
- Protect charter schools from additional cuts,
- Secure $28.9 million in cash for shovel ready projects in the Charter School Facilities Program, for those schools participating in the state bond program,
- Stop AB 925 (Lara), which would have added at least $16.5 million in cost pressure to charter schools to comply with new, restrictive, laws.
Despite our strong efforts and many successes in improving the financial position of charter schools, the overall state budget situation continues to threaten schools' fiscal viability. Although California celebrated a timely 2011-12 budget, the increase in tax revenues that it assumed have not yet come to fruition. If revenues fall below budget projections, an automatic "trigger" will be pulled to further reduce expenditures mid-year. In the worst case, this could mean up to $250 per pupil cost in January, depending on how far off the projections are. For schools, the budget resulted in essentially flat spending from the prior year, but did so by deferring the payment of a large portion of those funds into the next fiscal year. It also relied on questionable assumptions about the level of the minimum Proposition 98 funding guarantee for education. CCSA will continue to track the budget and keep our State Budget webpage up to date.
Although the overall outlook for education funding appears to be dim for the near future, CCSA's advocacy for charters helped secure a $15 million dollar increase to the SB 740 Program. This program provides facilities rent and lease assistance to charter schools, which do not have existing district facilities to use, that are serving some of California's neediest students (as defined by eligibility for the Free/Reduced-Price Meals Program). This was one of the only programs anywhere in the education budget to get an increase. (Our sponsored bill in 2011, SB 645, would also expand eligibility for this program to include more schools.) CCSA members can learn more by visiting our SB 740 webpage.
In addition to receiving an increase in the base categorical block grant to accommodate projected increases in charter school enrollment and not being singled out for any additional cuts, new and growing charter schools retained the supplemental block grant of $127 per pupil that was created last year as a result of our advocacy highlighting this inequity. The budget maintained the rate at $127 per ADA for new start-up charter schools, and provided an increase in this budget item to accommodate increased projections of new charter ADA. This augmentation will not increase the per-pupil rate of $127. This supplement does not apply to new conversion charter schools that began operation in 2008-09 and later. However, instead of receiving the supplement from the state, the law now requires the school district to provide $127 per ADA to a conversion charter school in lieu of the state supplement.
CCSA's advocacy efforts are also making a big difference for schools in the Charter School Facilities Program (CSFP). Charter schools who participated in the state bond program after Proposition 55 and Proposition 1D included charter school-specific funding streams are part of this program. The CSFP is administered by the State Allocation Board (SAB), and is part of a broader School Facilities Program which funds all public schools in California. Consequently, unused cash in the program could have made its way to traditional schools, but CCSA was there to fight for charters. Because of our efforts, the Board voted unanimously to use $22 million in unused cash to fund previously approved, shovel-ready charter school projects and kept $6.9 million for future charter school uses. The Board also unanimously voted to augment the previously set aside $73.5 million in future bond sale proceeds by an additional $20.7 million, meaning that all possible future CSFP advance fund releases will be covered through the next bond sale.
Finally, CCSA fought hard to defeat AB 925 (Lara), which would have applied onerous new sections of the Education Code to charter schools, dealing with classified employee rights and requirements. Besides severely restricting charter schools' operational flexibility, the Assembly Appropriations Committee estimated that there would be at least $16.5 million in cost pressure to charter schools to comply with the new rules. CCSA advocated strongly against this costly bill, and the author did not move the bill forward. Keeping our members up to date on legislation affecting charter schools is one of our top priorities. Please visit our "At the Capitol" webpage to learn more about legislative advocacy, the status of legislation affecting charter schools, and how to build relationships with your Legislators.
Protecting our schools' bottom line will always be one of CCSA's top priorities. In 2012, as the state begins another round of difficult budget discussions and negotiations, we will continue to fight for improved funding for charter schools. Every year that California faces budget cuts means deeper cuts to critical programs that have strong grassroots support; the time of trimming the fat from the budget is long gone. Much like last year, we expect there will be attempts to cut funding to charter schools, and it will be key to stand up and be counted. CCSA is on the ground in Sacramento tracking budget developments and making sure Legislators know the importance of protecting charter school funding. CCSA's advocacy efforts are only as good as the members supporting them, and our work in the Capitol is strengthened by your participating in Action Alerts and staying informed about the current fiscal situation. Please read our
SB 1148 (Hart) established charter schools, with a cap of 100 in the state, and no more than 10 per school district