Charter schools complain over funding

December 07, 2005|By LIZ BOWIE | LIZ BOWIE,SUN REPORTER

Patterson Park Public Charter School in Baltimore opened its doors this year with a diverse student body, a renovated building and 306 children in grades kindergarten through four.

But all is not rosy for the new school, said one of its founders, Stephanie Simms. The charter is struggling financially, with only $5,300 per pupil in funding and some in-kind services from the city school system. Baltimore spends more than $10,000 per pupil on public schools.

Patterson Park is not alone, said Joni Berman, president of the Maryland Charter School Network.

With 15 charter schools in Maryland, some of which opened this year, the question of how much public school money should be allotted to them is a pressing one for educators and charter school leaders. And it is an issue the Maryland General Assembly is likely to take up next session, Berman said.

"We have a law that has a lot of inadequacies and that has caused some problems," Edward L. Root, president of the state school board, said yesterday. "We just don't know what the rules are."

Most states have a well-defined formula or pay a set per-pupil amount for schools.

Maryland's law says funding for charters should be "commensurate" with that for other public schools, but defining that has been difficult. In city schools, principals are given funding based on the number of students attending. But Simms argues that unlike other city schools, many charters, including Patterson Park, must pay rent.

To meet even small needs, she said, parents and staff hold bake sales and other fundraisers.

A charter school is a publicly funded school independent of the local school system. Maryland was one of the last states to pass a law allowing charters, and some language in the law is considered vague, charter advocates say.

School board member David F. Tufaro believes local school systems have resisted proposals to found charters and have not given them enough money. "They are underfunded," he said.

Of the 15 charter schools in the state, 12 are in Baltimore, two are in Anne Arundel County and one is in Frederick County.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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