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Another Voice: New York needs to improve funding of charter schools to support results

By Eric Klapper

Earlier this month, Tapestry Charter School students and staff boarded a bus before dawn to head to Albany. We joined 11,000 other charter parents, students and teachers from across the state on the steps of the Capitol to demand fairness for charter schools, starting with a change to the current funding system. A Tapestry senior, Howard Vance II, was a featured speaker and represented charter school students from upstate New York.

Tapestry has developed effective and financially efficient models for delivering superior education in Buffalo, and is a laboratory for broader educational change of best practices in urban public education. Despite the significant poverty rate of the Tapestry student body (55 percent in kindergarten to grade eight, 75 percent in grades nine to 12), Tapestry’s student outcomes are some of the strongest in the city, with a four-year high school graduation rate of 96 percent and a 100 percent college acceptance rate. Remarkably, Tapestry’s results are achieved with an exceptional constraint: As a New York State charter school, it receives only two-thirds of the per-pupil funding received by traditional public school districts, along with zero funding for facilities.

We are producing a better outcome than is typical in most urban areas and certainly better than the Buffalo Public Schools is able to produce. It is not news the Buffalo Public Schools are in a sorry state. Graduation rates are roughly 50 percent, and fall to 35 percent after eliminating schools with admission requirements. However, as a district, it keeps one-third of the funding directed toward students that charters educate, when those charter students have never entered through a BPS door.

As public schools, charters are funded through a flawed formula, based on the per-pupil expenditure of the district in which each student resides. It is abhorrent to hear the Buffalo district complain about charter school expense on its balance sheet, when not a dime of the revenue received from the state was ever spent on educating charter kids.

In our city, as the Say Yes to Education initiative has successfully pointed out, fixing our education system is an economic development issue. As pockets of our city grow and thrive, new entrants will make the demand for quality education choices even more severe.

In Buffalo, charter students make up about 20 percent of the public school population, serving more than 8,000 students, and demand continues to grow.

We need to continue to invest in our students and our teachers. The current funding model is not allowing us to do so. It is critical we offer a quality education to our children. In fact, we see it as a moral imperative. We need the governor and our Legislature to support charter equity now.

Eric Klapper is the chief operating officer at Tapestry Charter School, a public school in Buffalo.