School funding has been a frequent topic recently, mostly driven by the proposed local referendum, the state budget process and the Local Government Series sponsored by the Stateline Community Foundation. While I did a blog post a number of months ago as an introductory piece on independent public charter school funding, because The Lincoln Academy (TLA) is the first such school in our area, there are still a great many questions – and at times some misunderstanding. As such, this will be installment #2 of what may be an ongoing conversation as we work to build local understanding.
As a reminder, TLA is authorized through a contract with the UW Office of Educational Opportunity and is defined by statute as a 2x charter school.
Note: There are also 2r independent charter schools in WI and while the funding amount for those schools is the same, the mechanisms for counting students and funding schools differs.
Students enrolled in 2x schools:
Are counted by their resident school district when the district calculates their revenue limit and general aid.
The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) calculates the charter school aid (number of charter students x per pupil charter aid) and reduces the aid to the resident district in the amount equal to the charter school payment.
The resident school district is allowed to retain the difference between the revenue limit and the charter payment for any allowable use.
Does TLA receive tuition payments from parents, the Beloit School District (BSD) or any other school district for their students?
NO. TLA is a public school and as such it is free for all scholars to attend. We do not charge or receive tuition from any source.
What is the impact of charter funding on local traditional districts?
Given the majority of the discussion regarding the funding impact of TLA is focused on the Beloit School District, I will use them to illustrate the impact.
TLA participates in the state required pupil counts in September and in January each year and reports our enrollment data to the DPI. Based on these counts we estimate serving 451 FTE scholars who are residents of the Beloit School District in the 2022-2023 school year.
DPI reports independent charter school counts to the Beloit School District. The District counts the scholars when calculating their revenue limit.
451 x $10,049 (BSD per pupil revenue limit) = $4,532, 099
The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) calculates the charter school per pupil payment for TLA and pays TLA directly (not BSD) an equal amount in quarterly payments. In other words, the DPI payment to BSD is reduced by an amount equal to the charter payment.
451 x $9,264 (Independent Charter School Payment) = $4,178,064
The BSD is allowed to retain the difference between the revenue limit calculation and the charter payment made to TLA. This is an annual decision made by the Board of Education as a part of their budget process. This funding is received for children who are not served or supported by the Beloit School District.
$4,532, 099 - $4,178,064 = $354,035
Notes: (1) Revenue limits and student counts will vary from one year to the next and data will fluctuate accordingly. (2) Independent charter schools only receive funding for the actual number of scholars served in a given year. This is different than traditional pupil schools.
Why does TLA receive less funding per pupil?
Charter school students in WI have always been funded at lower levels than traditional public students, regardless of needs or demographics.
Does TLA receive less funding because they don’t serve scholars with similar needs?
Absolutely not - that is a myth. As a public school, TLA is required to accept all scholars and in fact, our data demonstrates we welcome them.
Currently our scholars include 66% low-income, 23% English language learners and 14% students with disabilities. By comparison, the BSD recently released data on similar measures reporting 70.9% students in poverty, 17.7% English language learners and 15.3% students with disabilities.
A recent statewide comparison of basic demographic information further challenges these myths.
How much of the enrollment related revenue decline at BSD is attributable to TLA?
As noted above, in this academic year, funding for TLA will reduce BSD revenue by approximately $4.1 million. According to recently released BSD information, the revenue loss to the district attributable to public school open enrollment in this school year is $10,450,960. The funding loss is directly attributable to enrollment losses; the majority of students are enrolling in other traditional districts.
How can citizens learn more about school district revenue and expenses?
Interested taxpayers can visit the DPI website for information about district revenues and costs. Unfortunately, the most recently available data is for 2020-21. School Financial Services Data Warehouse (wi.gov).
The Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty publishes a school scorecard that includes total and per pupil spending information trends as well as district level proficiency rankings. School Scorecard | Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (will-law.org)
Both resources allow users to select statewide or district specific information.
A Final Note
What is unfortunate about the majority of education discussions today is the focus on money. While funding and fiscal responsibility is important (and it is!), it often distracts us from the other critical conversations we should be having about student achievement and how children are doing. We should be spending at least as much time discussing reading levels or the science of reading, post-pandemic mental health needs and bullying, post-secondary success and the evolving needs of employers, or the needs and interests of parents as they explore their options and try to best meet the needs of their children. Money is important but dollars do not guarantee that the rest of the list will be addressed. Our children are relying on us to help them build their futures. We need to be committed to measures beyond the dollars we attach to each of them.
Dr. Kristi Cole is the Chief Education Officer at The Lincoln Academy , a K4-12 independent, 2x charter school in Beloit, Wisconsin.