The Immediate Need for Funding Parity for All California Public Schools
By Myrna Castrejón, President & CEO, California Charter Schools Association
As president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, I talk to public school leaders every day. I hear firsthand how educators are working tirelessly to provide their students with a high-quality education in a safe environment. This is especially challenging given that students, teachers, and communities continue to struggle through changing conditions of the pandemic.
For Para Los Niños, which operates charter public schools in some of the most underserved communities in Los Angeles, there is also an immediate challenge to their school funding. They strive to ensure that each student not only gets a good education, but also receives mental health and other wraparound services so their students thrive. At a time where charter public school administrators should be focused on delivering those services, they instead are forced to pursue additional funding sources and fundraise so they can continue to offer a high-quality education and support services to students.
When the pandemic forced schools to shut down, our legislative elected officials recognized that public schools would need additional funding and support through this current school year and allocated funds contingent on getting students back in the classroom. What was not planned for was the resurgence of COVID through the Delta and Omicron waves, which have had impacts on the health of teachers, students and their families with fluctuating spikes in case rates across the state.
By the time the Delta variant emerged, a state budget had been enacted with the expectation that COVID was waning, and classrooms would return to their pre-pandemic operation. It did not account for schools to have to pivot again to greater levels of COVID cases, which have forced some schools to close for brief periods.
As with every district public school in California, a charter public school’s funding is based on their average daily attendance (ADA). Last year, when legislation was enacted to address the impacts of the pandemic on public schools, district public schools were given full funding protection against ADA declines they might face during this current school year again due to COVID.
A district public school is being allowed to use either the current or previous year’s attendance — whichever is higher — to calculate their ADA. However, charter public school funding was not given the same funding protection and funding remains calculated on the current year basis. The difference in funding protections puts charter public schools and the thousands of students they serve in jeopardy of losing significant resources.
With historic high projections in the state’s budget, it is irrational for the 700,000 California public school students that attend charter public schools to be negatively impacted by a funding formula that does not reflect the real-world situation.
There must be parity for all public schools.
In a recent CCSA survey, 79% of respondents, representing about 40% of total charter public school student enrollment, reported that they were projecting declines for this current year. Over 200 schools projected that decline to be 5% or greater over the previous year.
Some schools report that they will lose approximately $17,000 dollars in funding from the state when an entire classroom quarantines for 10 days. The cumulative result is millions of dollars in losses to charter public schools across the state. This will have disproportionate impact on minority and low-income communities that have been most hard hit by COVID.
Moreover, the funding cuts will have long-lasting impacts to how educators can respond and provide supports as they budget for future years. These cuts will occur in the middle of the school year and will also affect funding for the upcoming year and the ongoing financial health of charter public schools.
With all the instability in the world around them, it is unconscionable that any student should also face instability in their education. Schools are a safe-haven and serve as an environment for them to grow. They are a vital piece of a child’s community — where they get to spend time with their peers, where they have teachers who care about their education and wellbeing, and, for many, where they receive their first and second meals of the day.
Elected officials must take heed of this upcoming threat and act now. We have seen teachers and administrators move mountains to ensure their students are receiving the best education offering. Given the record state budget surplus, we must ensure all public schools are funded equally.
Schools, such as Para Los Niños, have already struggled throughout this pandemic to support students and mitigate learning loss. The state must do the right thing and ensure equal funding protections for all California public schools.
Myrna Castrejón is President & CEO of the California Charter Schools Association