Federal Education Dollars Going To Private Schools Increase, Delaware DOE Gets Bigger Role In This

Updated, 7:02am, 5/26/17: This is NOT some new school voucher scheme.  This has always existed.  It is actually a federal rule.  If public schools want federal funds, they must ensure private schools within their districts have equitable services.  One of the requirements is the districts MUST reach out to the private schools, compare notes, and offer to share federal funds with them.  The system is changing, thus these new Delaware DOE documents.  The DOE has a larger role in making sure this happens which requires more follow-up with private schools to ensure this is happening.  As well, there is a larger amount of funds required to be shared with private schools.  But, the feds aren’t supplying more federal dollars to districts so that means the districts have to give up more of their share of federal dollars.  Can someone please tell me, with all the headaches and angst we get from federal funds, along with the testing mandates, why we still WANT federal education dollars?

It looks like the Delaware Department of Education is in the planning stages to set up a school voucher system in Delaware based on changes to the Every Student Succeeds Act.  I know some Delaware private schools do get funding from Delaware school districts for certain services.  As an example, a parent could file a due process complaint over special education issues and if they win, the district may have to pay for private school for the special education child.  I know Christina School District pays for transportation costs to some private schools for students with disabilities.  But this?  Can someone please explain this one to me?

The below document was created in PDF format on Monday, May 22nd but the document is dated February 8th, before the United States Department of Education even submitted their FY2018 budget proposal (which is chock full of funding for vouchers and charter schools).  The document below that was created on the same date by the New Castle Title I Consortium and the author of the PDF was Al “Superman” Minuti (I can’t make this stuff up folks).  Sorry, I don’t believe any Federal, State, or Local dollars should be going to a private school unless it is a case of wrongdoing by a school district under the terms of a lawsuit or settlement.  If there is some sane and logical explanation for all this, I will gladly update this article (which I did, see above).

In FY2015, $63.5 Million Went From Local Districts To Charter Schools In Delaware

I found something I’ve never seen before last week.  Ironically enough, I discovered these documents when I was doing my charter school inspection.  I was working on this article when I received a call about the the topic we have all been talking about for the past week: charter school payments from school districts.  Every year, around March, the Delaware Department of Education produces a report called the “Educational Statistics Report”.  This report shows district and charter revenue and expense totals for each calendar year.  It also shows information I’ve been looking for but haven’t seen until now: how much each charters get from local school districts for students who attend from those feeder patterns.  In FY2015, local school districts sent an astonishing $63.5 million dollars to charter schools.  This accounts for 38% of Delaware charter schools revenue.

According to this report, the charter school that gets the most local revenue is the charter school with the largest student population.  Newark Charter School, with the largest student population, received $7 million from local school districts in FY2015.  The State of Delaware provided over twice the amount to Newark Charter ($14.7 million) compared to the next largest charter school, MOT ($7.1 million).

But where things get really interesting is when you compare revenue and expenses with traditional school districts.

Charter Revenue FY2015

CharterRevenueFY2015

District Revenue FY2015

DistrictRevenueFY2015

Charter Expenses FY2015

CharterExpensesFY2015

District Expenses FY2015

DistrictExpensesFY2015

In FY2015, charter school students represented 9.3% of Delaware’s public schools.  With a total of 12,521 students, this represented less than 10% of students in the state who chose this option.  The total revenue they received was a little over $164 million dollars.  By contrast, districts received over $2.16 billion dollars in revenue.  This is a total of $2.32 billion dollars in revenue between district and charter schools.  In the interest of fairness and  all things being equal, charters should have received $215.8 million dollars at 9.3% student population.  Instead, they received $50 million less.  If we stopped looking at figures right now, the Delaware Charter Schools Network would be correct when they tell people charters get $3000 less per student than traditional school districts.  I’m not sure what  year they are basing those figures on, but it actually works out to about $4,137 less per student.  More meat for their argument.

But there are many other factors that go into this.  By their very nature, school districts are much larger than charter schools.  They have more buildings to take care of.  Their central administration has to be bigger to keep track of it all.  While some (and rightfully so in certain situations) complain about the sheer number of district administrators, I think we can all agree that districts need more administrators than charter schools because of the sheer volume involved.  Out of the total amount of expenses, charter schools spend 11.57% of their funds on administration.  Traditional school districts in Delaware spend 7.09% on administration.  Charter schools spend 14.36% on “plant operations maintenance”, which I assume includes rent, custodial duties, and expenses for the actual physical building(s).  Districts spend $9.66% in this category.  Percentage wise, districts do spend more on student transportation at 4.62% opposed to charter schools’ 2.88%.  But there is one factor that may not be included in these totals for the charters: does this include the surplus transportation funds they get to keep after what they spent?

The key figures in the above charter are the pie slices that show the percentage of funds districts and charters get from federal funding.  While some of these funds come from federal grant funds, the bulk of them are for Title I and IDEA-B funding.  Title I is funds for low-income schools while IDEA-B is for students with disabilities.  Note that districts have more than double the percentage of federal funds than charters.  This is because districts have more students in those two categories.  For some charters in Delaware, they have very high percentages of those populations.  But the ones that are on the opposite end bring that percentage way down.  Especially schools like Newark Charter School and Charter School of Wilmington.

I wasn’t going to publish this article after the whole district-charter funding war commenced a week ago.  But with everything that happened since, I feel it is important to get these numbers out there.  I do have further analysis based on this and how I intend to prove, that if Delaware were to go to a true weighted funding formula, charters schools would actually receive less local and state dollars as a collective whole than what they are receiving now.

 

The No Response Hit List: Bob Silber, Christina School District

A few weeks ago, I submitted an email to Bob Silber, the Chief Financial Officer for the Christina School District.  It was in regards to a question I had about Christina spending $55,272 in non-state employee travel costs.  I did find out since those funds came from Federal dollars which makes me even more curious.

To date, I have received no response from Silber whatsoever.  One of the board members did inform me they received the email without any type of response to the actual inquiry.

So Mr. Silber… do you feel as though you don’t have to respond to questions concerning your district’s finances?  I would be happy to send this to the State Auditor’s office and submit a tip, or you could actually respond to my question.

It’s not like I didn’t warn people I would be doing this

ChristinaNonStateEmpTravFY2016

 

Delaware Education Funding: Which Schools Get The Most Per Student?

Are students in Delaware getting the most bang for their buck?  How much do districts and charters spend each year?  Per student?  In Delaware, education funding is one of the most complex things to understand when it comes to who gets what and what for.  Divvied up between three main sources: federal, state, and local funding, school districts spend a lot of money to educate students.  But is everything on the up and up?  For charter schools, who don’t have the added number of buildings and staff to contend with, do they really do “more with less“?  The answers may surprise you!

Now that Fiscal Year 2016 is in the history books, I was able to find what the average cost per student is for each Delaware traditional school district and charter school.  There are a few caveats to these pictures though.  The below figures are based on what each district and charter spent as expenditures in  FY2016,  based off information provided by the State of Delaware, regardless of the revenue source.  The number of students enrolled is based on figures as of September 30th, 2015.  While that may not seem important, it plays a huge role in Delaware education funding.  When Delaware Met closed last January, all those students went to surrounding districts or charters, adding to those district and charter expenditures.  A lot of the money Del Met received was already spent so the districts didn’t necessarily receive the full “cost” for each student.  While that is an extreme situation, things like students who receive an IEP after September 30th will always add to an increase in local funding while the state does not give any more funding for those types of things.  This is just the first part of a series of articles I am working on concerning what districts and charters pay for.  This introductory article is, however, the baseline of all that comes out after.

FY2016SpendingPerDistrict

Christina is tops and Delmar is on the bottom.  Note that this does not include the special programs under Christina.  This graph tends to run parallel with the number of students in a district with a few exceptions.  For the purposes of Red Clay, I took out the number of students that attend the charter schools they are an authorizer of.  The reason for this is because each of those three charters pay their expenditures separately through the Delaware accounting system.  As well, costs associated with the New Castle County Data Center, run by Red Clay and Colonial, are not factored in here because that entity is separate in Delaware accounting.

FY2016SpendingPerCharter

Like the traditional school districts, this tends to fall in line with the number of students.  Two very big exceptions are Gateway Lab School and Positive Outcomes.  Both of these charters predominantly serve special education students.  Newark Charter School is the biggest charter school in the state, thus they spend the most.

FY2016#ofstudentsdistrict

Once again, as noted above, Christina technically has more students when you don’t account for  the three charters in Red Clay.  Note the number of students in Cape Henlopen and the vo-tech schools.  This plays a big role in understanding the below pictures.

FY2016#ofstudentscharter

Many of these charters tend to be the older charters in the state with a few exceptions.  Note the very last charter school on this list: Positive Outcomes.

costperstudentdistrictfy2016

This is where things change rapidly.  Just being the biggest district does not mean you spend the most per student.  That designation goes to Cape Henlopen School District.  A lot of that comes from their local funding.  Citizens in Cape Henlopen rarely say no to a referendum.  The citizens of this area don’t seem to mind paying more for the education of students.  I was actually surprised in the Appoquinimink numbers.  The fourth largest district seems to pay second to the least amount per student.  Note how most of the vo-techs spend per student.  Taking the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th place out of the 19 school districts, they are the only ones that are not funded in the same way.  For vo-techs, there no referenda.  All of their funding, aside from federal funding, comes from line items in the budget.  There appears to be a greater benefit for this funding method for the students at these schools.  For districts like Red Clay, Christina, and Capital, they have some of the highest number of low-income students in the state.  Capital’s low-income population is at 51%.  That aspect alone gives these districts additional federal Title I funding.

costperstudentchartersFY2016

Positive Outcomes spends the most per student even though they have the least amount of students.  Like Gateway, the bulk of their population is students with IEPs, so this drives up the costs associated with that population way up!  Charter School of Wilmington comes in last, but they also get a few perks the other charters don’t.  They share their school with Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Red Clay.  They have a very sweet rent payment to Red Clay.  As well, a lot of the services they share with Cab students don’t cost extra for CSW as they would in other charters.  CSW has the lowest amount of low-income students and students with disabilities in their student population by a very big margin compared to the rest of the state.  So in some respects, they should have the lowest per-student funding.  Great Oaks, which just opened this year, has a very high cost per student compared to their peers.  I have to wonder how much unused space they are renting out in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.  Delaware College Prep, which closed their doors on June 30th, won’t be on this list next year.  Many charters received modifications this year for an increase or decrease in their enrollments, so expect a lot of these numbers to change in a year.

FY2016Combined

To answer the boast of Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network of “charters do more with less” is not an easy thing to do.  Judging by the above graph, we can’t say that for every charter school.  As well, we don’t even know how much goes towards each of the many coded allocations of expenditures for Delaware schools.  It can be done, but the average citizen is not going to do that.  We can say with certainty there is absolutely no consistent way schools pay their expenses.  Yes, there is a guide all districts and charters are expected to follow, but very few, if any, do it by the book.  To try to fix this and properly code each transaction into it’s correct coding group can be done.  It would take years to do for each fiscal year.  Furthermore, there are a plethora of different factors that affects the funding a district or charter gets: how much experience teachers have, the populations of high-needs students (students with disabilities, low-income status, English Language learners, etc.), even down to their transportation funding.  The bigger the district, the more administration they have.  This plays a big factor into expenditures.  But there is also, what I view, as wasteful spending.  Things that don’t really make sense given the context of what education should be about compared to what far too many power-hungry adults think it should be.

What these graphs do not tell us is how much money is being spent per student in different categories.  That is what happens next with this series.  For example, even a category like Student Body Activities can vary widely by charter or district.

I would like to thank a gentleman named Jack Wells for the inspiration behind this article as well as the rest of this series.  This would have never come about, under any circumstances, had it not been for the work he has conducted for years.  Jack is a Red Clay citizen with no children in the district.  But he is very concerned about making sure Red Clay and all Delaware students are getting what our citizens pay for: a good education.  For those who know Jack, he is like a dog without a bone.  He will keep digging and digging until he finds out what is really going on.  No FOIA is immune to Jack, and he will find that last unturned stone.  I am honored to be a part of Jack’s email group where he digs into a lot of this stuff.  Jack Wells and I talk a lot on the side.  Transparency and accountability in our schools are very important to Jack and I.  Not the accountability that comes from high-stakes tests, but financial accountability.  We may not agree on every facet of education funding, but I do know we both believe our state needs to do a hell of a lot more about holding districts and charters under the microscope for how they spend money.

Our State Auditor, Thomas Wagner, seems to have vanished and doesn’t want to answer the questions coming from Jack and I over the past month.  Many are wondering why this is for an elected official who still has more than two years in his term.  What will it take for him to adequately oversee education spending in our state?  There is far too much silence coming from that State Department, and it has me worried about what is going on behind the scenes.  Some people might be panicking.  That’s okay.  Panic away!  If you are doing something wrong, you have cause to be concerned.

Eventually, if I’m still alive, I would like to do the same thing for each school in each district.  But that involves a lot more research than I now have time for!

US DOE Issues Letter To Charter Schools Regarding Spending Of Federal Funds

The United States Department of Education released a “Dear Colleague” letter to charter schools and State DOEs in regards to charter school responsibility for spending of Federal funds issued to them.  It also warns about board oversight and conflicts of interest.  Something that never happens in Delaware, right?  This page on my blog is in the process of being updated in the next few days, and it is huge!

This letter goes out on the same day the US DOE gave away $157 million to US charter schools.  But read the letter.  Count the many ways in which Delaware charter schools are out of compliance with this guidance: