Helping Charter Schools Get Buildings
The Citizens of the World charter school, slated to open next school year in Kansas City, is generating interest in education circles. Unlike top-down efforts to open schools, in this case a group of parents got together and issued a request for proposals from different charter school operators from around the country to find the school model that would best serve their kids.
The parents eventually settled on Citizens of the World, a network that started in California and focuses on purposely building a diverse student body and preparing children for both academic success and engaged citizenship. If it ends up working as they hope it will, it will be the stuff of charter schooling dreams.
To date, one key detail is missing—a building.
Unfortunately, Citizens of the World is not alone. All across the state, charter schools have struggled to find facilities, and particularly facilities they can get at a reasonable cost. Charter schools do not get a budgetary line item for facilities like traditional public schools do, and because they are only authorized for 5 years at a time, their borrowing rates are often quite high as lending institutions see them as risky investments.
But it doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation has identified strategies that states have used to help schools find facilities.
According to LISC’s report:
1. Eleven states make district facilities available to charter schools by requiring districts to provide space to charter schools, requiring districts to publish a list of unused facilities for charter schools to access, or by offering right of first refusal to charter schools to lease or purchase district buildings. Missouri is not one of those states, even though, as SMI has highlighted in the past, the state is rife with empty school buildings.
2. Thirteen states currently fund a per-pupil line item similar to the one that public schools get specifically for facilities. Missouri is not one of those states.
3. Eleven states currently appropriate funds for some form of capital grant funding for charter school facilities. Missouri is not one of those states.
4. Four states allow charter schools to tap into local taxing authority through mill levy (a type of property tax) provisions. Missouri is not one of those states.
5. Ten states have authorized and active publicly-funded loan programs. Missouri is not one of those states.
6. Nine states offer some form of credit enhancement program, including moral obligation provisions or statewide credit enhancement programs. Missouri is not one of those states.
On the other hand, Missouri does offer two forms of support that LISC recognizes as helpful for schools seeking facilities funding.
1. Thirty-six states allow charter schools to access tax exempt debt through conduit issuers. Missouri is one of those states. But, to date, only three schools have taken advantage of this.
2. Thirty-nine states allow charter schools to participate in one of their Q-Bond Programs (bond programs run through the federal Treasury Department). Missouri is one of those states. However, to date, only one charter school has taken advantage of it.
If we want more charter schools, and charter schools that are community-driven, we have to make it easier for them to access facilities. The six policies above that Missouri does not utilize are a great place to start.