Lawmakers protect bus service for charter school children
Recently the people of Washington enacted the most significant advance in education reform our state has seen in 30 years, Initiative 1240, to allow 40 charter schools to open over five years. Charter schools are independent community-based public schools that are popular with parents. They have been successful in helping some the hardest-to-teach students get a good public education. Nationally over two million students attend 6,200 charter schools, with another 600,000 children on waiting lists.
In Washington, 3,500 spaces have been approved for children to attend charter schools. A further 4,900 families have expressed interest and are waiting for new applications to be approved.
Opponents, however, are not giving up. Union executives are trying to stop charter schools in court. That case is being heard in King County Superior Court.
Now comes news there was a quiet effort last week to cut transportation funding for charter school students. Section 505(2)(b) of the House Budget Amendment to the Senate Budget bill, SB 6002, would have required transportation funding for charter school students to be calculated based on “total number of students in the district.”
The voter-approved charter school law, however, requires that, “Allocations for pupil transportation must be calculated on a per student basis based on the allocation for the previous school year to the school district in which the charter school is located” (RCW 28A.710.220(3)).
In other words, charter school students are supposed to receive transportation funding on an equal basis as other public school students. Using the “total number of students in a district” formula has the effect of cutting the amount of transportation money charter schools would receive.
Here’s an illustration. A charter school in Seattle should receive transportation funding based on the 2013-14 per student allocation for the Seattle School District. The transportation allocation for Seattle Schools in 2013-14 was $33.2 million, based on 28,540 students riding the bus. See this report. Dividing students riding the bus into $33.2 million results in a funding level of about $1,163 per student.
If the House-passed budget formula were used, transportation funding for charter schools would be based on the transportation budget divided by all the students in the district, resulting in a much smaller per-student amount. Seattle has about 50,000 students, which, divided into $33.2 million, would result in a charter school funding amount of only $664 per student, or about $500 less than what other public schools would receive.
Last week, this disparity was brought to the attention of the top budget writers in the House and Senate, Senator Andy Hill (R-Redmond) and Representative Ross Hunter (D-Bellevue). On Thursday they made sure charter school students receive fair treatment by adding the following provision:
“Per student allocations for pupil transportation must be calculated using the allocation for the previous year to the school district in which the charter school is located and the number of eligible students in the district, and must be distributed to the charter school based upon the number of eligible students.” See final version of SB 6002.
Families, children and education reformers owe a note of thanks to House and Senate budget writers for acting so quickly to end funding discrimination against kids who will ride the bus to a charter school, compared to their peers attending other public schools.
Reducing bus service funding for charter schools has been suggested before. In November the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction estimated the transportation funding formula for charter schools could be $381 per student.
The budget, with fair funding for charter schools, now goes to Governor Inslee for his signature. Charter school opponents occupy some of the most powerful positions in the state education system, so careful monitoring of future budgets will be needed to make sure charter school students receive fair and equal treatment.
This report is part of Washington Policy Center's I-1240 Follow-Up Project.