Amazingly, although the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools (UAPCS) board members who are also affiliated with Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) continue to insist the relationship is meaningless or coincidental, the newly released UAPCS lobbying agenda tells a different story. Utah’s charter schools have long been fighting for equity in funding (getting the legislature to allocate the same amount of money per capita to charter schools as to regular public schools – charter schools receive slightly less). This year those charter schools who pay dues to the association sailing under the PCE flag will also be adopting the PCE “Backpack Funding” slogan. Coincidence? You decide.
What is it? Well think of it this way. It’s basically vouchers with lipstick. Utah Moms Care has an excellent, dispassionate explanation of the concept here:
Backpack Funding is also known as Weighted Student Funding. There are three principles to Backpack Funding:
1. Funding follows a student to the public school of their choice.
2. Student funding varies based on the child’s educational needs (ex. special needs children would receive more)
3. Funding arrives at the school in real dollars, not in numbers of teaching positions or staff.
The goal is to decentralize funding, channeling more of the money directly to the principal, who hires his own staff and uses his school’s budget money as he sees fit. It is the ultimate in local control. In Utah, this idea is being pushed by Parents for Choice in Education (the group that supported vouchers) – [and its new captive, the Utah Association for Public Charter Schools.] Backpack Funding could mean the end to neighborhood schools. While most districts allow some variances, with total parent choice as some other states have, communities can stop buying in to their own local school. For this idea to be successful, a principal who valued honesty and transparency would also be essential. Remember though, this is not raising the funds available for public schools, just reorganizing the same inadequate pot of money.
The 65% Solution was introduced years ago by a D.C. organization called First Class Education (FCE), Utahns are familiar with one of the group’s founders – Patrick Byrne, overstock.com CEO. The idea came from FCE looking into how much money was spent on “classroom instruction” in various states. They concluded that in many states with students were doing well on federal skills tests, about 65% of their budget was spent on “classroom instruction”. There are problems with the 65% Solution. While it is good for more money to make it to the classroom, there are other elements that factor into successful schools, for example: quality libraries, a trained support staff of school nurses and counselors, nutritious food service, building maintenance, and adequate transportation. An across the board mandate that 65% of school budgets go to class room instruction fails to account for differences in needs.
So, let’s say you start carting your child to the local charter school, or half a dozen of your neighbors do. Which, if it’s a charter school like the one UAPCS Board member Robyn Bagley backs, Utah Virtual Academy, is actually an online (home) school, so come to think of it, no-one will even need to leave the house. Or maybe it’s a school run by one of the charter school management companies in the Utah cartel with two representatives on the UAPCS board (Lincoln Fillmore & Jed Stevenson). While all the tax money follows your child and/or your neighbor’s children in search of home schooler/management company pockets to line, your publicly funded neighborhood school is going to have to figure out how to keep the lights on, maintain the building, pay the staff, etc., with that much less money. Their costs haven’t decreased; they just have less money now with which to cover them. In a state where per capita education spending is already the lowest in the nation.