Why so much hand-wringing over Oklahoma's charter schools?

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: August 6, 2012

THE bizarre world inhabited by some members of the education establishment was graphically illustrated recently when Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman complained that state funds were going to ... other public schools.

We kid you not.

At a State Board of Education meeting, Lehman complained that nearly $64 million was withheld from initial allocations of nearly $1.8 billion for school districts. The money withheld includes $26 million for students in new virtual schools and charter schools — two other public school options in Oklahoma. (Incidentally, the withholding is required by law.)

Transferring money to other public schools shouldn't come as a shock to Lehman. In Oklahoma, state funding follows the student. For Lehman to complain about money going to charter schools is comparable to Edmond officials complaining that Oklahoma City schools are getting state funds.

There are some differences between public charter schools and non-charter public schools such as Jenks. For one thing, charter schools don't get as much taxpayer money. Charter schools get state funding based on student enrollment, just like other schools, but up to 5 percent can be withheld by the school's sponsor for administrative costs.

More significantly, charter schools don't get local property tax and don't have the ability to do bond issues. This makes a big difference financially and is one reason charter schools are often housed in old buildings abandoned by traditional school districts.

On the other hand, Jenks has a new math and science center that includes a 120-seat planetarium and two-story greenhouse. According to Education Design Showcase, the facility sits on three acres and was built for just over $23 million (an estimated cost of $40,364 per student).

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