1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Show Me the Money

As uncomfortable as it may be for me to say this, charter schools need money to operate. And lots of it. At first glance, the $6,000 or so a school gets per full time students seems like a whole lot. Say if you project enrollment at 100 the first year then students alone bring the school $600,000. "Wow, we could have six teachers, giving us a 1:17 teacher to student ratio and we could pay each teacher $100,000 per year!" Whoa, Nelly: once you start accounting for salaries/benefits, rent, utilities and other operational costs, the money goes fast. Here are a couple of thoughts on avoiding bancruptcy:

Everyone teaches. I put this here even though it more properly belongs under "educational philosophy" or "curriculum." In many schools there is a cleavage between adminstrators and teachers. Thus principals have "their" agenda and teachers have "theirs." The net result is that they often end up trying to subvert each other. No, principals, counselors, grant-writers need to teach. I am highly sceptical of a person in these positions who does not have a desire to teach. Beware the bewitching power of bureaucracies!

The US Marines have a maxim that goes something like this: Every Marine a rifleman. In our context what this means is that everyone involved in the school should be teaching in some capacity. I hear an objection already:

"But Colorado law the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) require that teachers at charter schools have a four year degree, 24 credit hours in the discipline they are teaching in OR have passed a content area exam such as the PLACE or PRAXIS. So what about someone who works for the school who does not possess a BA?"

This is true, the teacher of record must meet these requirements, but by everyone a teacher I mean that all staff are directly involved in the education and formation of students as is possible. Say we hire a secretary with 90 hours toward a BA. This person could also be assigned the task of helping the math teacher run Shared Inquiry discussions. Or assist in a keyboarding class.

This also means that students get different adult perspectives as well as saving the school a few pennies.

Fees. I recently saw the account balance for a student at a local public high school. It was around $150. Some of these fees seemed silly, but some were legitimate. What might constitute reasonable fees? Books and handouts, science lab expenses, compass and maps for land navigation exercise (orienteering), library/locker fees, etc. The point is not to exploit parents and students but to offset bona fide expenses that are necessary for the kinds of programs we envision. FAPE (Free, Appropriate Public Education) does not mean EVERYTHING is free in a public education.

Grants. There are hundreds of grants available from private foundations and governmental programs that give monetary or material support to schools. Some foundations focus on charter schools.

Ideas. There are also think tanks and other organizations that might not have money available, but might be willing to provide advice or speakers or magazine/journal subscriptions.

Free stuff. Craigs List, organizations that want their name advertised on pens, pencils and notepaper, The Tightwad Gazette is an online resource for hardcore penny-pinchers: See http://www.tightwad.com/

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