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Report has it wrong on efficacy of charter schools

The New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools does not agree with the conclusions drawn by the Legislative Finance Committee staff report, Performance, Cost and Governance of Selected Charter Schools presented on Jan. 18th regarding the efficacy of charter schools. The report contends that “charter schools cost more for similar results.”

The findings in this study were based on demographic, financial and student achievement data collected from only six charter schools: South Valley Academy, Robert F. Kennedy, ACE Leadership High School, New Mexico Connections Academy, The Masters Program, and the New Mexico Virtual Academy. It’s important to note that there are approximately 100 charter schools in the state, so this study is based on a very minimal, statistically insignificant sampling.

Charter schools are essentially mini school districts, accountable to taxpayers and the Public Education Department for responsible, ethical use of public dollars; for compliance with all statutory and regulatory requirements; for the safety and welfare of their students; and for meeting the academic goals set out in contracts negotiated with their authorizers (the Public Education Commission for “state” charter schools and the school district boards of education for “local” charter schools).

The LFC contends that per pupil funding for charter schools is inflated, because, in part, they receive the funding adjustment for small school size. Most charter schools, by intentional design, do keep their enrollment numbers capped between 150 and 400 students.

They operate on the fundamental principle that students thrive academically, socially and emotionally in small school settings. Because they are schools and not programs, small charter schools qualify for the “small school size adjustment” component of the funding formula.

Many schools have relied heavily on these funds to cover basic costs of salaries for instructional, administrative, and support staff, and for facilities costs. Charter schools cannot avail themselves of the support staff and support systems of a “central office,” nor are they given free buildings, complete with maintenance and custodial services, as is the case for traditional public schools.

It would be more appropriate to compare the cost of operating small charter schools with the cost of operating small districts which are also eligible for the small school adjustment.

The assertion that charters are not out-performing traditional public schools in terms of student achievement is an overly simplistic, singular view of student academic growth based solely on one measure of achievement, the Standards Based Assessment.

The charter contract, negotiated with the authorizer, establishes charter-specific student outcome goals for which the school is held accountable annually. SBA scores tell part of the story but by no means do they tell the entirety of it.

Many schools, charter and traditional, voluntarily choose to go through an external accreditation process with AdvancEd. This process challenges them to delve deeply and critically into all aspects of their instructional practices and operational systems.

They are required to analyze a variety of achievement data and student artifacts; they interview and survey students, parents and staff members, they visit every classroom for an entire class period. They study curriculum maps and professional development plans, parent involvement activities, school climate and classroom environments.

It takes this kind of rigorous and comprehensive evaluation to draw any conclusions about how well a school is performing.

The New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools supports re-evaluating and potentially revising the New Mexico funding formula to ensure equitable distribution of funds among all schools.

However, if school “quality” is tied to funding, then we demand accountability systems that fairly and accurately measure school performance and conversely, identify schools – charter and traditional – that should be closed.

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