Matthew Joseph is the Policy Director for Education Funding at ExcelinEd.
Nationwide, millions of students are enrolled in public charter schools, and millions more are on waiting lists to attend one. Despite their obvious success, public charter schools often lack access to affordable facilities, which would allow these in-demand schools to serve more students.
The National Charter School Resource Center’s new report “A Synthesis of Research on Charter School Facilities” examines charter school access to facilities—including facility acquisition and ownership—as well as facility funding and financing. Through an extensive review of existing literature, the report identifies four key findings relevant to the current state of charter school facilities:
In short, facilities matter, and how states respond to charter facility needs will impact the health and growth of their schools.
States have passed a variety of policies to help charter schools with their facility needs, such a cash allotment per student to access to surplus district facilities, and low-cost financing to purchase facilities. These are all great ideas to meet an urgent need, one that severely limits charter school growth, but how well are these policies working in practice?
To answer this basic question, ExcelinEd developed the Charter School Facility Index. It calculates how many charter schools are actually benefiting from each policy and compares that to the current overall need, as well as the need in five years as charter schools continue to grow.
ExcelinEd recently piloted this concept in Indiana, and the results were sobering.
Indiana is currently meeting only 40% of facility needs for the state’s brick-and-mortar charter schools—and on the current path, that number will drop to 36% in five years. This gap forces charter schools to redirect $1,072 per student toward facilities, instead of classroom learning. With that money, an average-sized charter school could, for example, hire an additional eight teachers.
There are many ways, including improving existing policies and adding new ones, that have worked in other states. There is no perfect combination. To help state policymakers and partners consider their options, ExcelinEd developed a companion tool that shows the impact of various policy changes and how much they will cost the state.
By providing charter schools with access to facility-related local revenue, expanding access to district-provided facilities and enabling affordable facility financing, Indiana could meet a much higher percentage of the facility need.
For example, some states have more stringent requirements for listing surplus public facilities and making them available to charter schools. As a result, a higher percentage of charter schools are in district-provided facilities. Indiana could similarly strengthen its requirements. It could also incentivize more districts to use voluntary innovation agreements, like what Indianapolis Public Schools is doing. Finally, policymakers can consider providing charter schools access to surplus space in other taxpayer-owned or subsidized buildings, like those in universities. If triple the number of charter schools could receive no- or low-cost facilities in Indiana, the state would meet an additional 21% of the need—without imposing any additional cost on the state.
Meeting the facilities need is critical so charter schools can maximize their funding for student instruction and better meet the growing demand from Indiana’s families. Our research has shown that there are many things IndIndiana can do to better address the facility needs of its charter schools, even in tight fiscal times.
Explore the full brief and companion tool below to learn how Indiana policymakers can apply the Charter Facility Index and advance high-quality education options for students.