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Editorial: District should share unused space with charter schools

Here’s a not-so original idea to address the issue of where to put the increasing number of Buffalo students attending charter schools: Share unused school district buildings or share space in underused buildings. They should already be sharing best practices – more sharing would be good.

Charters in New York City already have access to such space. Buffalo isn’t New York City in population, but the number of charters is growing quickly – two new charter schools opened in Buffalo this year, two more are on the docket to open next year and another couple are on the horizon, for a regional total of 23.

Charters now educate about 1 in 5 public school students: 9,000 students attend charter schools while 34,000 attend traditional public schools.

Both traditional and charter schools are public entities, funded by taxpayer dollars.

Charter schools receive $13,005 per pupil from the students’ home district. However, they do not receive building aid, resulting in roughly 13 percent of their operating budgets going to pay for facilities.

Charter school advocates hope that by lobbying lawmakers they can shake loose the building aid that goes to traditional schools. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

It is fine to support new educational options, as this page has in the past, but they should operate within the fiscal framework that was set up by the state. In theory, because charter schools operate without much of the regulation and bureaucracy that hobble large school districts, they can operate more cheaply. Administrators in every school want more money, but charter achool officials knew going in how much they would have to fund education and facilities. They should figure out how to get by without more state money.

If they can’t get more money, charter schools at least want acccess to unused school district space. That is a more viable option.
School district enrollment is dropping. If that makes space available, it should be offered to charter schools. Maybe there is unused space in one of the 48 redeveloped schools that benefited from the controversial 10-year, $1.4 billion state-supported Joint Schools Construction Project.

Co-location might also promote sharing of best practices benefiting both, and even win over critics of what has become an increasingly popular education option in Buffalo.

Charter schools offer parents a choice. They are especially important to parents concerned about the quaility of education in public schools, but unable to afford to send their kids to private or parochial schools.

Critics argue that charters skim the better students, leaving problem students to traditional public schools, a charge charters deny. There is an important check on charter schools. They are required to perform up to educational standards; if they don’t the state can close them.

The Buffalo School District, loathe to lose state aid to charters, unsuccessfully urged the state to put a moratorium on new charter schools. Instead of attempting to stifle charters, the district needs to recognize that traditional and charter schools are both here to stay and work to improve all public education in the city. If that includes finding space for charter students, the law should be changed to allow it.

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