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By Eric Stirgus September 11, 2012

Charter school funding claim hits close to mark

A math exercise by one prominent education advocate in Georgia had folks asking some questions.

Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, recently sent a letter to education officials and other interested parties noting that state special charter schools will receive more money per pupil than those attending traditional public schools under a revised formula set by the Georgia Legislature.

Garrett sent his letter to Atlanta Journal-Constitution education columnist Maureen Downey, who then posted it on the AJC’s Get Schooled blog. It’s complicated, but he concluded that state-approved charter schools actually come out ahead when the budget cuts are applied.

Some well-versed on education wondered if Garrett’s conclusion about which schools will get more money from the state is correct. Some read the part about austerity cuts and said Garrett was just wrong. PolitiFact Georgia thought it would be worthwhile to do some homework on all of this.

Charter schools will be a hot political issue this fall. These are public schools that are independently managed and given organizational and curriculum flexibility while meeting state and federal education standards. Such schools are approved by local school boards or, if rejected by the local board, by the state Board of Education.

On Election Day in November, Georgia voters will decide by referendum whether the state constitution should be amended to allow the state to authorize and pay for more charters. Georgia Schools Superintendent John Barge surprised many fellow Republicans last month when he announced his opposition to the amendment, citing concerns that the state is having trouble funding public schools.

There are currently 15 state-approved charter schools.

Now, back to Garrett’s statements.

PolitiFact Georgia decided to examine the second part first.

In 2003, the state began the first of several austerity cuts, due to declining revenue. For four of the prior past five years, local school districts were shorted millions that they were due under the Quality Basic Education Act, the state formula for funding public education, the AJC reported in 2010.

Garrett admitted he erred when he wrote that austerity cuts differed between traditional public schools and state-approved charter schools.

"I wish to correct one piece of information about the funding of state special charter schools that I included in the version of Friday notes that I sent earlier today," Garrett wrote in an email he sent to the state Department of Education. "In fact, it appears that the allotment sheets for state special charter schools DO, in fact, reflect a reduction based on austerity cuts. Thus, the paragraph in which I stated that those state special charter schools are not subject to the same austerity cuts as traditional k-12 schools was in error."

Garrett confirmed he sent that email to the state, but said his larger point was state charter schools will get more money than traditional public schools under the amendment, which brings us back to the first part of his claim.

The QBE formula gives money to schools based on each student and "indirect" costs, such as administration. Georgia requires local systems to pay an amount equal to five mills of property tax generated within their taxing authority for those educational costs within the school district.

Downey asked state Education Department spokesman Matt Cardoza to review Garrett’s claim that state charter schools will receive more money per pupil under the new formula.

His answer: "I’ve confirmed that those numbers are correct. Our financial review team ran the numbers based on what the legislation says."

The AJC recently examined the question of which types of schools get more money. An article concluded that state-approved charter schools would get more money per pupil, citing an analysis of school funding completed for Gov. Nathan Deal, who backs the amendment. However, traditional schools will get local money that state-approved charter schools do not. In 2011, the state Supreme Court ruled state lawmakers do not have the power to grant the state authority to approve and fund charter schools over the objection of local school boards.

In conclusion, Garrett was correct on his larger point that state-approved charter schools will get more money per pupil under the proposed amendment than traditional public schools. Garrett admitted he was incorrect about the secondary part of his claim that state-approved charter schools are exempt from austerity cuts.

We give Garrett a grade of Mostly True.

Our Sources

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Get Schooled blog, "Under new law, will state send more funds per child to state charter schools than local schools?," Aug. 4, 2012.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "School leaders wary of cuts," Dec. 9, 2010

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Money at the heart of charter debate," Aug. 17, 2012

Email from Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza, Aug. 17, 2012

Georgia House Bill 797

Telephone interview with Georgia School Superintendents Association Executive Director Herb Garrett, Aug. 20, 2012

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