Delaware Charters Getting Whiney About Wanting Capital Funding For Construction Costs

Matt Albright with the Delaware News Journal just wrote an article on Delaware Military Academy looking to expand.  During their charter renewal process, Delaware Military Academy (DMA) asked for a modification to increase their enrollment from 566 cadets to 715 over the next five years.  To do so, they would need additional facilities to hold the students.  They need capital funding to do this.  Delaware charter law explicitly states charters in the state do not receive capital funding.  Another Delaware charter, Odyssey, was highlighted in the News Journal a couple weeks ago for wanting this as well.  Albright wrote:

The school has a plan for how to expand, but it does not know yet how it will pay for it.  This is a common concern for charter schools because they do not get capital funding from state government like traditional schools do. That means charters must stretch their budgets if they want to build new facilities or make major renovations.

That is the way the law was written Matt!  Come on, you know this.  So why are you pandering to the charters?  I don’t see you asking citizens to vote yes in traditional school district school referendums.  This is just a big advertisement for the legislators.  This is how the charter community works.  They get the News Journal to write stories about what they are sorely lacking, right before the legislative session begins, in the hopes it will become an “issue”.  If I were the Red Clay board, I wouldn’t approve this modification if the school does not have the ability to hold the additional students and doesn’t have the funding available.  This is very poor planning on DMA’s part.  Crying poor after they submit a modification but before it is even approved shows poor judgment.

A recent bill which passed in the Florida House of Representatives would allow charters in the state to get 40% of the district’s funding for capital costs.  The capital funding part was just a part of a larger bill, but the bill had no controversy until the capital funding section was added.  Other highlights of the bill include:

The proposal would create the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation to help new charter schools. It would also make it easier for top-performing charter schools to replicate themselves in high-need areas and specify that charter schools receiving back-to-back Fs would be automatically closed.

This is something Commandant Anthony Pullella, the leader of DMA, is already pushing for.

Pullella isn’t calling for the state to instantly start giving charters as much capital money as it does traditional school districts. But he does believe schools should be able to earn some assistance if they prove they are effective.

He proposes, for example, a graduated system in which a charter could earn 25 percent of a traditional school’s capital funding after five years of proven success. It could progressively earn more the longer it continues to show it is successful.

I could easily see some of the legislators in Delaware trying something similar to what the Florida House just passed.  In addition, other parts of the Florida charter bill are taking shape in Delaware.  We are seeing this with the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities.  As well, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee recommended an organization to oversee all the Wilmington charter schools.

Charter schools were required to be models of innovation that local districts could emulate.  But the problem with the perceived success Pullella talks about is the fact that this is based on standardized test scores.  This is the barometer of all public schools success in Delaware.  There is also the question about the school population and how charters select their applicants.  Any school can be a success if the application process is flawed and only the best and the brightest are allowed in.  This is something quite a few charter schools in Delaware have issues with.  Including the biggest: Charter School of Wilmington, another Red Clay authorized charter.

But the big kicker is this: what happens if the school closes?  Since charters are considered corporations and they are not state-owned, the property would revert back to that corporation.  Any funding a state kicked in would be lost forever.  Something Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams brought up in the News Journal article as well:

“What if the school closes? Does the state get the building? It’s kind of a gray area,” she said. “DMA is very popular with parents. But they knew coming into this that that kind of funding was not available to them.”

Chances are we will see that exact situation play out in exactly one week when the State Board of Education will most likely revoke Delaware Met’s charter and have them close after this marking period ends.  While the school received no capital funding, they did receive $175,000 as part of the Delaware Charter School Performance Fund.  Money from this fund can go to capital costs with very little oversight.  We are now seeing, after twenty years of charters siphoning off more and more local school district dollars,  Delaware charters wanting to change the playing field even more in their favor.  Even though they get tons of money from the Longwood Foundation, they still want more.  Based on an illusion of success called standardized test scores.  And as usual, they find a public spotlight in the form of the News Journal.

When folks say I am anti-charter, I’m not.  I’m all about following the rules.  If it isn’t Family Foundations Academy squandering over a million dollars, or Delaware Met’s self-nuking a month after they opened, its stuff like this that drives me crazy about charters.  They brag about how great they are and act like they don’t have any money.  But DMA apparently had extra money to spend when they went through their own investigation with the Delaware State Auditor’s office a few years ago.  And lets not even get into special education at a lot of these charters.  They know exactly what I’m talking about, right guys?

I fully expect to see someone, possibly a Republican State Rep. or Senator, to introduce some crazy legislation like this in Delaware during the second part of the 148th General Assembly.  The big difference between Florida and Delaware is that the Republicans don’t hold the majority in the First State.  My recommendation to Delaware charters: stop whining about what you don’t have and looking for short cuts.  You know where to go to get that kind of money, so give the DuPonts a call.  Or one of the numerous charter-loving “foundations” or “non-profits” out there.  But stop asking an already cash-strapped state for more money.  And stop expecting to get more from the local districts.  Because at the rate you are “expanding” and “growing”, you are getting more of the local share of school district money than you ever were.  But what happens when those districts reach the breaking point, and they are no longer able to pass referendums?  Look at Christina as a model of this.  Cause if you don’t, you will end up shooting yourselves in the foot.

The one thing charters in Delaware do much better than traditional school districts is parent engagement.  I don’t think anyone will contest that.  But please, stop brainwashing these parents into reaching out to the media to get your way.  The bizarre cult-like fascination with some Delaware parents and charters is bad enough as it is.

As for the News Journal: please stop with your charter loving articles.  Yes, you write about the bad too.  But you try to bring issues up not because they are truly newsworthy, but because you are getting calls from the charter lobbyists who also happen to be aligned with your biggest advertisers.  It’s called bias, and it is well-known throughout the state.

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