This post was originally published on Pass the Chalk.
â€œI thought Obama was supposed to support schools?â€ my cousin, a Romney supporter, asked me in an angry tone when my news broke.
The past semester has been ridiculously enlightening to the complex and sometimes-unpredictable state of charter school finances. It has been among the most poignant lessons Iâ€™ve learned in myÂ Teach For America experience.
Few outside of a charter schoolâ€™s administration truly understand how budget-related decisions are made, though I feel Iâ€™ve learned at least the gist of it through my teaching experience (and, you know, being laid off). While charters are publicly funded, I now realize that organizations that approve and monitor charters, called authorizers, wield a lot of power in these budget decisions.
From what Iâ€™ve seen, in Minnesota, charter schools face limited financial scrutiny. (Concerns about the oversight of charter school administration, operations, and finance have triggered reports and legislative action over the past few years â€“ so Iâ€™m not the only one who has noticed this issue.)
Those who approve and by-and-large monitor charters can be any non-profit whose overall budget is over a set amount. Taking a look at the differentauthorizers that oversee charters in the twin cities, itâ€™s clear that theyâ€™re not all in the K-12 education business full-time, but rather moonlight as overseers for specific schools, for a variety of reasons. While they most likely have good intentions, it at least begs the question of â€œwhat do they know about K-12 education?â€ While Iâ€™m very much still a newcomer to educational policy and budgeting, Iâ€™ve had enough discussions with veteran educators of many affiliations (TFA and non-TFA, Republican and Democrat, administrator and classroom teacher) to know that the present system is less than ideal for long-term student stability.
Whatâ€™s more, as charters are typically a single school in a single building (save those developing their own full districts), a small budget blip or a bad enrollment year can mean quick layoffs, something that larger traditional districts typically can smooth over or avoid. Limited oversight is allowing this to sometimes be used as a standard budget-balancing maneuver instead of a rare occurrence.
Minnesota, the first state to allow charter schools â€“ and there are many in the state â€“ may face greater challenges than other states where charters are less common or not allowed.
Itâ€™s undeniable that charters can have clear benefits. However, the lack of transparency, accountability, and predictability can also undeniably harm student learning. As I begin at another school, I have a reignited passion to work my hardest to promote stable, educationally-challenging environments for all students.