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Op-ed: Charter schools take funds from other schools

Without funding, new schools would hurt existing ones

If you watched television during the '70s and '80s, chances are you recall those ridiculous commercials for Crazy Eddie electronics stores - or at least the parodies that have surfaced since).

Crazy Eddie had a maniacal, ranting style, and he ended each commercial with that classic phrase, "Our prices are insaaaaaaaaaane!"

Of course, almost every sale was "the greatest sale ever," and the fine print was obscured so that when you arrived at his store, his prices were indeed insane and the product and quality was less than advertised.

It was no surprise that Crazy Eddie was eventually charged with fraud, sentenced to eight years in prison and ordered to pay more than $150 million in fines.

I recount this because there is an interesting parallel with what is happening at the state Capitol.

Specifically, the task force on education has adopted a charter school bill with a price tag that is insane. Students, parents and education personnel will be less than thrilled with the product.

Here is why.

There is no cost - no fiscal note - for a bill that promises to transform public education.

This is insane. It is totally unrealistic to think we can implement legislation of this magnitude without any funding.

Consider that last year, the Legislature passed the more modest Innovation Zones Act and appropriated $500,000 to ensure success.

Proponents and advocates should all agree that charter schools will require a massive infusion of funds because we will be creating, in many counties, entirely new schools.

But unless we appropriate additional funding for charter schools, we will end up with a situation whereby charter schools take funds away from regular public schools.

Presently, allocation of funds to our schools is based on net enrollment. Once the funds are received, budgets are developed, with funds distributed to the schools based on the cost of programs.

So our larger schools operate on less per student than our small ones, which is why there is a push by some to consolidate schools, as it is more cost effective.

However, each charter school will be funded on a per-pupil-expenditure basis, and this will hurt schools that are not charters).

For example, hypothetically, the average per-student expenditure in Kanawha County might be $8,500.

But to fund a small school such as Piedmont requires $10,000 per student, whereas it requires only $7,000 per student to fund a large school such as Capital High.

So if the large school is granted a charter, its funding could increase to $8,500 - $1,500 more per student than before charter.

In our hypothetical scenario, where will Kanawha County find the additional funds? Without additional funds, all schools in the county will lose funding.

In other words, we still have the same size pie, but now the pie must be cut into more slices. Consequently, the slices given to each school are smaller.

In addition, our hypothetical newly created elementary charter school in downtown Charleston will need an administrative team and professional support personnel.

Where will the funding come from to support those positions? If a charter school is authorized and a first-grade teacher in an existing school loses 10 of her 20 students to the new charter school, where does the money come from to hire the new first-grade teacher?

Without additional funds, all schools in the county will have their budgets cut in order to fund the charter school.

Until these issues are resolved, AFT-WV can't support the legislation.

The state Senate and the governor are in a state of denial if they think the state can implement a charter school bill without additional funds.

To do so, in the words of Crazy Eddie, is insane.