“Nonclassroom-Based” Charter Public Schools Must Be Funded Equitably
By Myrna Castrejón, President & CEO, California Charter Schools Association
Public schools that help our most vulnerable students are today in danger of closing because of funding challenges caused by the pandemic. Some of the most successful charter public school programs combine a traditional classroom setting while also meeting students where they are, designated as “nonclassroom-based” (NCB) schools. These free, public, and open to all programs serve students, particularly young adults, who are trying to balance their family, life, and work demands or want a second chance to achieve a high school diploma after leaving the traditional public school system.
I wrote about the importance of funding equity for all schools and students earlier this year as charter public schools faced funding cuts as a result of attendance impacts caused by the pandemic. The Governor and Legislature have since presented budget proposals that remedy the impact on all traditional schools, but NCB schools are excluded.
Unlike traditional “site-based” schools that receive funding based on a student’s hours in a seat, NCB schools track progress to meeting goals and outcome as a measure of how school goals are personalized and completed. Instruction can occur independently, in cohorts, through internships and dual enrollment in colleges, or in learning centers across the state that look just like a traditional classroom. These schools would more accurately be called personalized, hybrid schools.
Because these NCB schools deliver education in a non-traditional setting, they are funded differently. There has been a stereotype of NCB schools that they are “online” or “virtual.” In fact, any charter school that conducts more than 20%, or 1 school day, of instruction outside of the traditional classroom is designated as NCB.
For these programs meet their students’ need for flexibility to accommodate family, work, or life obligations. This flexibility can be a real lifeline for our most vulnerable students. In providing a responsive, supportive team of educators to ensure students stay on track, dropout rates are reduced.
Charter public school educators have found success in reaching our most vulnerable students who would otherwise have fallen between the cracks through nonclassroom-based education opportunities. It is a well-known fact that education is vital for personal achievement. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, high school graduates are more likely to be employed and earn more than those who have not graduated. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research also shows that high school graduates are also less likely to run afoul of law enforcement or require social services.
A primary example of a program that has had a dramatic impact on students’ lives but will be harmed by funding losses is Five Keys Charter, established in San Francisco. In 2014, CCSA was proud to recognize Five Keys with the Hart Vision Award for School of the Year, our organization’s highest honor. The school got its start working in the San Francisco County jail to serve incarcerated students. Today, Five Keys is partnered with nine county Sheriff’s Departments across the state and operates in 23 jails, including in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Marin, Sonoma, and Alameda counties.
Because most county jails in which Five Keys operates limit direct student access and must supplement classroom instruction with independent schoolwork, they are unable to meet the requirements of a classroom-based program. Students meet with educators one-on-one, in small groups, and in full classes in county jails. Before the pandemic, over 1,100 inmates attended Five Keys daily. As COVID swept through jails, the opportunity to serve students was slashed to 25 percent. Because of the inability to recoup the funds that have cut attendance, Five Keys has used more than $8 million in reserves through the pandemic. Without the funding protection, the school will have to lay off 60 teachers and classified employees, and the 23 County jails will lose 70% of their educational programs.
Another example is Southern California’s SIATech, which serves high school students who are either at-risk of dropping out or have dropped out already. SIATech provides small, individualized instruction that reflects current workforce needs. Their first education centers started in partnership with federal Job Corps centers to complement students’ career training. Today, through these centers and standalone campuses, SIATech offers classroom, blended, and independent study learning options, graduating more than 400 students each year.
SIATech lost over 80% of its enrollment due to facility shutdowns and COVID restrictions at Job Corps facilities. Their centers were slow to reopen and still face strict regulations, limiting the number of students. SIATech’s largest center, which operates out of San Diego’s Jobs Corps facility, went from average monthly enrollment of 258 pre-pandemic to 58 this year.
The funding cuts to both programs, and many others like them, will be devastating and will limit, if not eliminate, the education opportunities for our most vulnerable students.
As the Legislature and Governor work on the final details of the state budget this month, we must make sure that ALL students are supported. With everything that our students have endured throughout this pandemic, we need to be providing more resources for those who want to complete their education.
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