Budget delay could hurt charter schools - East Valley Tribune: News

Budget delay could hurt charter schools

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Posted: Monday, July 6, 2009 3:38 pm | Updated: 1:14 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Arizona’s 475 charter schools — like their district cousins — have eyes on the state Capitol and what may happen to education funding in Arizona.

Unlike their district counterparts though, the charter schools don’t have access to lines of credit through the state to get them through the next few weeks. 

 Arizona's 475 charter schools - like their district cousins - have eyes on the state Capitol and what may happen to education funding in Arizona.

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State budget battle resumes today

Schools' funding tied up in budget process

Brewer vetoes pieces of budget, orders lawmakers to return to Capitol

Unlike their district counterparts though, the charter schools don't have access to lines of credit through the state to get them through the next few weeks.

"The schools are scared. They're panicked," said Stephanie Grisham, director of communications for the Arizona Charter Schools Association. "The districts operate in a different year. This is current year. It's a really big deal."

Charter schools got their last payment from the state on June 15, but it's unclear if they'll get a July 15 payment. That's because Gov. Jan Brewer put a line-item veto on the education budget passed by lawmakers last week. Without a 2009-2010 fiscal year education budget in place, no more money can go out to schools.

District schools received a $600 million payment last week that was due to them from the 2008-2009 fiscal year after the state rolled that money over to help with cash flow. District schools are also owed a payment - about $330 million - on July 15 that may be delayed without a budget.

Unlike school districts, charter schools receive funding based on current-year enrollment figures. If charter schools lose kids to district, private or even other charter schools, they lose dollars in the current school year. District schools may lose enrollment, but it won't have a big impact on the budget until the following year, allowing school leaders to plan.

With the state grappling with a more than $3.3 billion budget shortfall, all public schools - district and charter - face budget cuts.

The proposal passed by the Legislature cut $1.5 million in funding to Arizona's 475 charter schools. But Brewer's veto put any planning back at the ground level.

"Now we don't know where we are," Grisham said.

Charter schools serve about 100,000 of the 1 million children in public schools in Arizona.

State Treasurer Dean Martin said those charter schools may face a cash flow problem in the next month.

"For them it can be real tight," Martin said Monday prior to the start of the special session of the Legislature. "They only get basic state aid, not a property tax base. In many cases, this is the entire money they have to operate their schools."

Martin said the schools' operators could use personal credit cards or lines of credit through banks to help out.

"The problem you have is what do you pledge for that? There is no budget, so they can't say, 'We're going to get funding.' ... The Legislature will eventually fund (kindergarten through 12th-grade public education), but there's no idea how much for how long. Then whatever the cost for the loans, for districts and the charter schools there's no provisions to pay for that interest," Martin said.

Sue Douglas, principal at Mesa Arts Academy, a charter school under the umbrella of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the East Valley, said she's already cut the budget, including leaving open positions as people have left. Though it may delay payment, she was grateful for Brewer's veto because the adopted legislative budget would have meant another $42,000 cut to her school.

In addition to two part-time positions, Douglas cut a popular "early learner" program. About 75 percent of the school's 220 students speak English as a second language. In the past, Douglas would open the doors to the school one to two weeks prior to the first day of class to give the kindergartners a head start.

"Half of them come speaking no English," Douglas said. "I had to say to them I could not fit it in the budget this year. Your little one will start when everyone else does."

Douglas said in the spring the teachers opened their supply closets for a "buying" day where they swapped materials with each other, knowing little would be available for supplies.

"Our programs work," Douglas said. "It's disheartening to take a program that's working and is successful and slash dollars ... You're slashing services."

Public education in Arizona makes up 42 percent of the state's budget. The public education budget vetoed by Brewer included more than $220 million in reductions of state aid to Arizona's schools.

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