|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Thursday, July 8, 2004
Los Angeles Daily News 7-8-04
Charter funds 'pilfered'
The Los Angeles Unified School District and other California school districts are depriving charter schools of their fair share of special education funding by withholding up to 37 percent of the money, according to a study released today.
The report by the Reason Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy think tank based in Los Angeles, found that most charter schools receive special education money through their school district, which can decide how much of the funding is allocated.
"There's really no excuse for such huge percentages of money being pilfered from charter schools," said Lisa Snell, author of the report and education director at the Reason Foundation.
Snell said school districts often justify withholding the money by telling charter schools that they are insuring them against severely disabled students who may need private placement later on.
She said LAUSD was particularly wasteful with the special education money it holds for the charters in its district.
"The biggest problem for charter schools is because (LAUSD's) special education program is such a mess. It's just throwing the money that they are entitled to into this very inefficient and wasteful system," she said.
But Donnalyn Jaque-Anton, associate superintendent for LAUSD's division of special education, said LAUSD's per-pupil special education funding is in line with other districts with similar populations, and the funds withheld are just the charter schools' "fair share."
Special education is underfunded by the federal government, and school districts have to make up the amount by using general fund education monies, Jaque-Anton said. That difference is called "encroachment."
Under state law, districts can charge charter schools an encroachment fee to pay for districtwide special education programs, but the law does not specify a percentage.
"Every school in the district pays," Jaque-Anton said, adding that the district does provide some special education services to charter schools. "Charter schools, because they are fiscally independent, it comes out differently, because the other schools don't want independent budgets."
The study included a survey of 35 California charter school directors.
Charter schools are an alternative form of public education based on teacher- and parent-driven curriculum and student achievement.
The report recommends that per-pupil special education funding should go directly to charter schools, instead of passing through the sponsoring school district.
"The challenge right now for charter schools is that the dollars don't follow the child," said Gary Larson, spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association. "They still follow the bureaucracy, and that works against the needs of the students who need early intervention."
Charter school leaders praised the report, saying it highlighted their funding disputes with school districts.
Joe Lucente, president of Fenton Avenue Charter School in Lake View Terrace, said his school already pays for such services as speech and language therapy and that LAUSD shouldn't charge them as if it provided them.
"The district has chosen to totally ignore that and two months ago, confiscated the entire 37 percent -- $220,000," Lucente said. "This could end up in legal action. There's no way we're going to allow them to breach our contract."
Chris Davis, assistant principal in charge of special education at Granada Hills Charter School, said the problem isn't so much being charged an encroachment fee but the fact that the district doesn't give charter schools an accounting of how the money is spent.
"We had some situations where we called the district and asked for legal counsel, and it would not provide it for us," Davis said. "We had to provide our own legal counsel. There are expenses that the district picks up. But what is covered and what is supported, we really don't know."
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