It’s a little-known fact that charters schools are on the hook for their own facilities. Charter schools are saddled with spending a portion of the local and state funding attached to a student — meant for teaching and learning — on facilities. Additionally, charter leaders are forced to spend time locating a building and in a growing city like Nashville, that is challenging and expensive. You think it’s hard to find a low interest-rate loan when you want to buy a house or a car? Try getting a decent rate for opening a new school!
Remember, schools only get a certain amount of money for each student and most Nashville charter schools like to grow slowly. For instance, a K-4 school might start with only K-2 and add a grade each year…and that means you’re only getting half the money you need for a building that will ultimately house twice as many students.
With the recent news of the creation of two funds dedicated to financing charter school facilities, I am reminded of the story of a school board member’s accusations against Nashville’s Rocketship and Purpose Prep of unethical practices in seeking alternative avenues to secure capital for facilities. Rocketship had long been on the receiving end of the school board’s ire. But picking on Purpose Prep was a new low.
Purpose Prep, an elementary school in North Nashville boasts nearly 100% of its students reading at or above grade level. Principal Lagra Newman and her staff should have been acknowledged for their hard work in eliminating achievement gaps, instead, Ms. Newman was forced to divert energy from running her highly successful school to respond to facility matters. According to the Tennessean: “[Ms. Newman] said that charter schools, which don’t have access to the capital dollars to build new buildings for traditional schools, must pursue alternative deals.”
Fortunately, charter schools now have a way to get better rates on loans for building schools thanks to the two new nonprofits dedicated specifically to that cause. These two new funds are welcome respites for charter leaders and supporters. The bottom line is that the Charter Impact Fund and Facilities Investment Fund will give charter schools quicker access to long- and short-term financing.
As a friend of charters, I hope this will be one less thing anti-charter proponents will have in their arsenal of assault tactics. And as a taxpayer, I think it’s only fair that every dollar of a charter school student’s designated funding goes to educating not housing. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot when we force them to divert money from teaching and learning.