Charter schools finally get word on their budgets

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After enduring a 4 percent decrease in per pupil funding last year,
Chicago’s charter schools will see level funding this year. After enduring a 4 percent decrease in per pupil funding last year,
Chicago’s charter schools will see level funding this year.

Illinois Network of Charter Schools Executive Director Andrew Broy said his group was hoping that the schools would at least get back the 4 percent that was taken away last year.

“Without that, we are back at levels not seen since 2008,” he says. Broy’s organization believes that charter schools should be given the same amount per student as CPS spends, but that has never been the case.

Last year, CPS’ charter high schools got $7,341 per pupil and charter elementary schools got $5,873 per pupil. In comparison, the basic cost per pupil in CPS was $8,765. Illinois law allows school districts to fund charter schools at between 75 and 125 percent of their per capita costs.

Charter schools have been awaiting word regarding their funding so that they could take steps such as hiring teachers and doling out raises.

As for CPS’ overall budget process, the district is behind. The new CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has been on the job for less than two months, and the district is grappling with a projected budget deficit of $712 million. Two weeks ago, the Board of Education voted not to pay the 4 percent raises called for in union contracts with teachers and members of seven other labor unions. Without the raises, principals at traditional schools have been told they can also expect level funding.

Even without increasing the per pupil funds for charter schools, CPS will spend about $25 million more on charters overall in the coming school year. Four new charter schools are opening and several will be adding grade levels in the coming year.

Negotiations on the contract–reopened as a result of the vote against raises–are set to start in early July between the Chicago Teachers Union and the district. If, indeed, the district does not pay the raises, it would save $100 million, reducing the deficit to $612 million. It is unclear how Brizard and the board plan to close the rest of the budget hole.

No charter school teachers are part of the Chicago Teachers Union, though some charter schools have unionized teachers. 

Charter school teachers are generally paid less than teachers in traditional schools and also tend to work longer hours. The average teacher salary in charter schools was about $49,000 in 2009-2010, according to the most recent teacher service records, analyzed by Catalyst Chicago. In traditional CPS schools, the average was $69,000.

John Horan, president of North Lawndale College Prep, says it is getting increasingly difficult for charter schools to compete for teachers with traditional CPS schools. His

teachers haven’t gotten a raise for two of the past four years.

“Over the past couple of years we have fallen further behind and it becomes an increasingly uphill battle,” Horan says.

Horan says that his school, which has two campuses blocks apart, usually hold onto teachers for a long time.

But other charter schools have had high teacher turnover, showed an analysis by Catalyst in the Summer 2010 Indepth.

One argument for giving charter schools less than public schools is that they generally have been able to pull in private money from foundations and private philanthropists. But many have not been able to maintain fundraising levels and at least 40 percent operated in a deficit at least one of the past few years, according to CPS officials.