Public Charter Schools Struggle to Stay Afloat

The NerveSome South Carolina Public Charter School District institutions, already among the lowest-funded schools in the state, are in danger of having to close their doors unless state legislators agree to provide more funding, organization officials say.

Currently, per-student state funding for students in the district is approximately $2,500,” District Board Chairman Don McLaurin said. “This simply isn’t sustainable and it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many of our schools to remain open. And if we lose these schools, it will represent a significant waste of funds, creative energy and opportunity.”

The S.C. Public Charter School District’s board of trustees is seeking a bump in state funding that would provide sustainable support for the schools in the district but would still leave it near the bottom in terms of what most districts receive from state and local sources.

Currently, the district’s per-student state funding is made up of base student cost funding of less than $1,800 and $700 from a one-year legislative proviso.

S.C. Public Charter School District institutions don’t receive as much money as charter schools approved by local boards because their only funding comes from state and federal sources. As a result, the $2,500 the district charter schools currently receive per student is about one-fourth of the $10,000 that traditional schools receive for each pupil.

To help rectify the situation, the Public Charter School District Board is requesting that the district be funded at a ratio 2.5 times the base student cost per student. This would still be a financial bargain for the state and provide sustainable funding for district institutions, McLaurin said.

The district would continue to receive allocated Economic Impact Aid and federal funds to help ensure viability. While the district would remain below the state average regarding per-student funding, it would allow the charter school movement to survive and expand as a public education option for South Carolinians.

The General Assembly created the S.C. Public Charter School District in 2006 and the district began operation the following year. Currently, there are approximately 6,000 students in the seven schools that comprise the district, making it the 37th largest public school district in the state.

With four new schools approved to open in 2010, enrollment should exceed 9,000, which would place the district among the 25 largest in South Carolina.

In addition, the board believes that a demonstrable move toward funding parity for district schools compared to traditional public schools will strengthen the state’s application for federal Race to the Top funding.

This competitive application process must include charter schools and the current dearth of sustainable funding for district charter schools will adversely affect South Carolina’s application, McLaurin said.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.