Facilities Guide for New and Expanding Charter Schools
New report offers best practices from successful Massachusetts charter schools to help other charter leaders navigate the facilities development process
BOSTON, MA – By creating a facilities team comprised of well-connected, local professionals with relevant expertise; drawing up a development plan that specifies school needs, desired location, and financial capacity; and taking advantage of available funding sources, charter schools can clear the often daunting hurdle of finding appropriate facilities, according to a new White Paper published by Pioneer Institute.
Despite 2010 legislation that raised the cap on Massachusetts charter schools and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s approval of 16 new charters in February, finding appropriate facilities is still a challenge for many charter schools.
Houses of Learning: The Charter Public School Facilities Process is meant to serve as a helpful resource for charter operators in Massachusetts and across the country who are increasingly confronted with decisions that require expertise in real estate development, zoning, public procurement regulations, construction, and finance.
“We produced this guide because we don’t want the search for new facilities to get in the way of the academiccentered learning experiences charter public schools are providing for our schoolchildren,” said Jamie Gass, Director of Pioneer’s Center for School Reform. “This paper is chock full of ‘rules of thumb’ that are invaluable for any school leader even considering expansion.”
The paper notes that a service sector has emerged providing low-interest loans, financing expertise and development consulting, and many charters have access to facilities assistance from federal and state-level programs.
The paper also includes four key recommendations to policymakers and charter supporters to help them more easily secure financing for new space:
• Give charters access to closed school facilities, whether by releasing lists of available properties, as in South Carolina, or by giving charters the right of first refusal on empty public schools, as in Arkansas and Louisiana;
• Create a privately financed charter school facilities fund that could provide grants for credit enhancement and direct loans to charters; and,
• Eliminate the $3,000+ per-pupil funding gap between Massachusetts’ charter schools and district schools.
Author William Donovan, a former staff writer with the Providence Journal, draws on interviews with successful Massachusetts’ schools, including the Edward W. Brooke Charter School in Roslindale, Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, MATCH School in Boston, KIPP Academy in Lynn, as well as state officials and charter facilities consultants.
Traditionally, Massachusetts charter schools have been at a disadvantage compared to district counterparts because they cannot apply to the School Building Authority for funding. But since 2005, they have received a per-pupil capital needs allowance.
Pioneer has been a leading advocate for school choice and charter schools since their adoption. Over the past few years, the Institute has released the following reports on Massachusetts charters: Charter School Caps and Strings Attached: The Achievement Gap Act of 2010 and Charter Policy (October 2010); Debunking the
Myths about Charter Public Schools (January 2010); Putting Children First: The History of Charter Public Schools in Massachusetts (November 2009); and Follow the Money: Charter School and District Funding in Massachusetts (November 2009).