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Another Voice: State’s funding formula is unfair to charter schools

By James Neimeier

When I helped found South Buffalo Charter School 15 years ago, the goals were to give Buffalo children a great public education. I’m proud of what we have done and what our students have learned.

Next week I hope they learn something as valuable as the lessons they’ve learned in the classroom: the importance of participating in their government and what it means to be an engaged citizen.

On Tuesday I’ll escort a group of our students to Albany for Charter School Advocacy Day. Knowing these students as I do, I can already see how they’ll absorb the importance of what goes on in the Senate and Assembly chambers. This trip will be a momentous introduction to state government and politics.

I hope they can see that their voice counts.

I also hope lawmakers remember how they felt when they first witnessed government in action and what an impact a visit like this can make on a young person. I hope they keep open minds during the students’ visits. The issues they’ll be discussing – facilities funding and the funding inequity charter students face – are keenly important to these kids.

In years past, some legislators who are less than supportive of charter schools weren’t always receptive, even during the students’ visits to their offices. It didn’t matter that these kids lived in their districts or that their parents are voters! I hope this year is different.

Our delegation from Buffalo needs to hear our students’ message.

As charter students, they aren’t treated equally. They receive 60 cents on the dollar compared to their friends and neighbors who attend city schools.

Think about that for a minute. The district can keep 40 percent of the funding meant for a charter student – and it can do whatever it wants with that money! After 15 years, we’ve proven our value. It’s time for all the funding to follow the children to whichever type of public school they choose.

Our students also know they have a beautiful school building. But the road to get that building was not easy. Charters outside of New York City are plagued with a persistent challenge. They don’t receive any public facilities funding and that’s the single biggest hurdle to opening a charter school. Facilities funding for charters wasn’t included in the governor’s budget proposal, but we know there’s still time for negotiation. This is an issue that no other public schools grapple with. It needs to be remedied this year.

Buffalo’s charters offer a great alternative in a struggling city. They’re providing a path to a better life for thousands of kids.

On Tuesday we’ll be a small group representing the 120,000 charter students in the state. And we hope our lawmakers are listening.

James Neimeier is president of the South Buffalo Charter School board of trustees.