Wake County school administrators are warning that charter schools could take millions of dollars more from the school district’s budget over the upcoming fiscal year.
At Tuesday’s budget presentation, Chief Business Officer David Neter told the school board about how the district may have to provide $3 million more in local funds to charter schools for the 2016-17 fiscal year. He also talked about how pending state legislation could also result in Wake turning over more funding that’s currently not given to charter schools.
The financial warning comes as Wake and other school systems face increased competition from charter schools, which are taxpayer-funded public schools that are exempt from some rules that traditional public schools must follow.
Wake school officials project that the district will add 1,898 new students for the 2016-17 school year and that charters will add 1,193 new students.
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Those 1,193 new students would result in Wake forwarding $3 million more from local funds to charter schools, bringing the annual total to $24.4 million. School systems act as a financial pass through for charters.
“Just as we’re growing, the charter schools are growing as well,” Neter told the board. “Every additional charter student gets a piece of the state funding, gets an additional piece of local funding.”
According to the budget proposal, charter schools could get an increase of $5.2 million – not just $3 million – if their growth is greater than projected. The $3-million increase is based on a projected 12-percent increase in enrollment to reach 11,026 charter students for this fall. In the past two years, Wake’s charter-school enrollment has increased 45 percent.
The other item Neter warned about is House Bill 539, which would require traditional public schools to share more of their funds with charter schools. The bill, which was rewritten and passed by the N.C. Senate in September, died in a House committee but is eligible to be brought back when the General Assembly returns April 25.
“There’s a charter bill that made crossover that has implications for all LEAs in the state – and they’re not positive implications,” Neter told the board. “They would receive additional funding out of funds that we are currently reimbursed for. They’re not really revenues receiving so one could call that double dipping, if you will.”
Under the bill, traditional public schools would have to share additional federal funding, gifts and grants, sales tax revenues and other funding. One of the sources of tension was over school systems providing child nutrition money even when some charter schools don’t participate in the school lunch program.
Charter-school supporters say the money should follow the student and that charters are currently being short-changed.
“There’s been a large inequity in the amount of funds that go to charter schools,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Randolph County Republican and sponsor of the bill, in a September article. “It’s about a 35 percent difference in the amount of money charters get.”
This week’s warning from Wake staff comes after school board members sharply criticized charter schools at their February retreat. Board members had complained about losing students to charter schools while also accusing them of leading to resegregation.