Access and funding for high-quality school facilities remain a top priority for public charter schools and their advocates during the 2023 state legislative sessions.
There were quite a few major wins on the facilities front during the 2022 legislative sessions throughout the country that can be built upon, but there’s more work to be done to ensure that all children attending a charter school have access to a high-quality facility, and that charter schools are not forced to utilize classroom dollars to lease, purchase, or renovate a building.
Take a look at four such states tackling big issues in facilities funding for charter schools this spring:
In New Jersey, charter school supporters are pushing for charter schools to be eligible for state facility funding for new schools and substantial renovations to existing schools. The legislation (A4496/S3247) sets new rules for state facilities funding for all public schools, under the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA).
Under current state law, charter schools are prohibited from constructing a facility with public funds other than federal funds. Under the proposed bill, charter schools would be eligible to receive funding for 100% of the final eligible costs of the project. To secure the funding, a charter school would apply to the SDA. The SDA, in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Education, would annually review the applications and thereafter create a statewide charter school facilities strategic plan to be used in the sequencing of school facilities projects, including a statewide educational priority ranking of projects based upon the SDA’s determination of critical need.
The legislation is currently working its way through the New Jersey legislature’s committee process and is nearing a final vote on the Assembly floor. If it passes the Assembly, it will next move to the Senate. Local advocates are focused on ensuring that the charter school provisions remain in any final version that the legislature passes.
In Idaho, there are two pieces of legislation that are working their way through the legislature. The first bill (Senate Bill 1042) deals with credit enhancement for charter schools, seeking to assist established charter schools in obtaining lower interest rates on bonds. Previous legislation had created a credit enhancement financing tool, but it has reached its statutory cap. This bill would amend the existing statute to raise the cap on the overall capacity of the tool, allowing more schools to participate. This bill has passed out of the Senate Education Committee and should be heard on the Senate floor soon before being taken up by the House.
The second bill (Senate Bill 1043) would create a revolving loan fund to help new and recently established public charter schools obtain lower interest rates on loans, so more taxpayer dollars stay in the classroom instead of being redirected toward high-interest facility loans. This bill recently passed the Senate floor unanimously and will now be heading to the House.
Maryland charter school champions are also seeking to provide additional facilities funding for charter schools. The bill (SB0646), if heard in a committee and eventually passed, would establish the Public Charter School Facility Fund to provide funding on an annual basis to public charter schools for eligible facilities expenses.
The legislation would also exempt the fund from a requirement that interest earnings on state money accrue to the state’s general fund—ensuring that the dollars generated would remain for their intended purpose of supporting charter schools with facilities expenses. The fund would be administered by the pre-existing Interagency Commission on School Construction, and the fund could only be used to acquire, plan, develop, finance, construct, lease, improve, repair, and maintain public charter school facilities.
Passing a facilities bill for charter schools in Maryland would strengthen the state’s law significantly, especially considering Maryland’s charter school law is one of the weakest in the nation according to the National Alliance’s Model Law rankings.
Charter schools in Texas are focused on closing the gap in facilities funding received by students in charter schools compared to those students in district schools. Under current law, Texas charter school facilities funding is distributed via a formula system, but the law caps overall funding at $60 million statewide. This arbitrary cap—which has not been adjusted due to charter school growth or inflation since 2017— means that charter schools are limited to just one-fifth of the facilities funding being provided under the formula.
A bill (HB1572) has been introduced that would eliminate the arbitrary cap and allow the charter school facilities formula to work the way it was intended. The bill is in its early stages and has yet to be heard in a committee.
Public charter school supporters should closely monitor these 2023 legislative efforts in these four key states, as well as similar charter school facilities proposals throughout the country. More so than ever, improving state policies around charter school facilities funding equity and access is a critical policy lever to grow high-quality public school seats throughout the country.
Charlie Bufalino is the senior director of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.