Charter School Seats Could Increase by 668 in Boston
BPS will need to reduce excess seating capacity to maximize use of limited resources
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has announced that an additional 668 Commonwealth charter school seats will be available for Boston students. These seats will bring the number of charter school seats approved for Boston to 11,544 by allowing expansion in existing charter schools and the potential creation of an additional charter school for Boston resident students. Much debate has focused on the effect charter expansion has on the BPS budget. However, while the increased charter tuition assessment has reduced the City’s available operational revenues, the BPS budget has maintained a constant percentage of the City’s overall budget.
Reason for Additional Seats
The number of charter seats allowed in a district is determined by the percentage of net school spending that may be applied to charter schools. For districts in the lowest 10% of performance statewide, which includes Boston, 18% of net school spending can be allocated to charter schools in FY17. Since charter school seats were last calculated, projected FY15 net school spending increased by $74.8M, allowing for the authorization of the additional seats.
Impact of Charter Seats
As explained in a recent Research Bureau Special Report, charter schools are funded through a Charter Tuition Assessment, which reduces available Chapter 70 aid for education by an amount comparable to what would have been spent on the student had he or she remained in the district. To help mitigate the impact of this loss of state funds for education, the state designed a reimbursement mechanism which returns to the City 100% of the lost funds the first year a student attends a charter school and 25% of the funds in each of the next five years. The charter tuition reimbursement is subject to appropriation by the Legislature. In FY15 only 63.5% of the obligation was funded, which represented a revenue loss of $12.2M for the City.
In FY16, the net charter tuition assessment (assessment less reimbursement) is budgeted at $123.1M, an increased of $18.4M or 17.6% over FY15. The City treats the charter tuition assessment as a fixed cost that reduces overall city revenues. Through FY16, the City’s practice has been to fund the BPS at roughly 35% of the total budget, meaning the charter impact is spread proportionally across city departments. However, a change in state law, such as increasing the charter cap, could cause the City to reassess its policy regarding the BPS budget.
Cost of Excess Capacity
The BPS’s inability to meaningfully reduce excess capacity created by charter expansion remains troubling. The disconnect between enrollment, programmatic offerings and school facilities spreads resources thin throughout the district by contributing to increased personnel, transportation and facility costs.
During the last school year, the BPS estimated there were 4,100 empty seats throughout the system, which cost roughly $21.5M. As the 668 charter seats are authorized over coming school years, the BPS must be able to adapt to the loss of students to charter schools. The current Facilities Master Plan Initiative should identify steps to reduce and reposition seats in order to maximize the utilization of limited resources.