Thursday, May 03, 2007

school funding

A letter I sent to my governor and state legislators. I wrote it tonight, based on a newspaper column I ghost-wrote for a friend, based on a speech she gave to our state officials at a public budget hearing. For the op-ed piece, I was trying to keep her voice. Here, it's mine.

Dear Gov. Culver:

I am writing to you as my governor to ask that you seek a more appropriate level of funding for the state's charter schools. A resident of Nova Bastille, I have a daughter who is attending second grade at Gary Barker Charter School, and as both a parent and a trustee of the school, I am deeply concerned about the current funding inequities, which seriously dampen the school's ability to perform its mission.

As I'm sure you're aware, the Iowa Charter School Program Act of 1996 stipulates that charter schools are supposed to receive 90 percent of the per-pupil spending of the sending school district. Unfortunately, that's not what is happening. In 2005-06, Gary Barker spent $6,102 for each student, compared to the $12,203 that Nova Bastille spends. That's not even close to 90 percent. It's barely 50 percent, even though three-quarters of the students at Gary Barker come from the city. Apparently the state funding regulations do not consider Gary Barker to be an Abbott district, even though most of our students come from one and we're located in one.

The state's proposed budget promises to increase funding for non-Abbott districts with large numbers of poor students. Since we're not eligible to receive Abbott aid, but half our students do qualify for free or reduced lunch, you would think that this aid is perfect for us. Instead we've been told we are ineligible, because the school is located in an Abbott district.

I get a headache just trying to figure that one out. How on earth can we be both Abbott and non-Abbott and yet neither one, all at the same time?

The whole point of the funding arrangement created by the Charter School Program Act is for funding to follow the child. Why isn't that happening? Why are my daughter and her classmates being denied the money for their education that would be spent on them if they attended Nova Bastille's other public schools? I don't get it. Either Gary Barker qualifies as an Abbott school because of its location and should receive Abbott aid, or it's not an Abbott school and it's entitled to the new at-risk aid because its student population meets the criteria.

My wife and I have lived in Nova Bastille since shortly before our first daughter was born, in 1999. In no small part because of Gary Barker and the tremendous education program it offers, we have stayed in our "starter home" for nearly eight years now, long enough to have a second daughter who is now finishing preschool and gearing up for kindergarten. We've built relationships with other families in the school, and we've grown deep roots in the city. We've discovered for ourselves the cultural treasures Nova Bastille has to offer, and we have become involved in other organizations working to make the city an even better place to live. We love our city, and we love our school.

I'm asking you to help guarantee that Gary Barker gets the funding it needs and its students deserve, so that it can continue to be an asset to the community. As the Legislature finishes its work on the 2008 state fiscal budget, please remember to give all the students in New Jersey's public school system the best chance at success. Remember to provide qualifying charter schools with either Abbott aid or the newly allocated "at-risk" aid.

Thank you for your time.

David Learn

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