by Kathleen M. McGree

Funding and Assistance

There is little question about whether starting a new school or converting an old one costs money. Both do. The lack of necessary funds and assistance, particularly in the early stages of implementation, remains one of, if not the, biggest obstacles charter schools face. The costs of planning and operating charter schools are largely borne by the parents, teachers, and community members who organize the schools and contribute intense amounts of energy, time, and money to get them started.

Start-up funds
Research on charter schools suggests that funding will be a major obstacle in the future. Lack of funding is particularly harmful to new schools. In California, at least one school already relinquished its charter after it failed to secure the necessary start-up funds (Dianda & Corwin, 1994). Charter schools have had a difficult time raising money for even basic equipment such as desks and books (Minnesota House of Representatives, 1994). The vast majority of charter school laws do not make provisions for start-up funds, although some states, like Arizona, are beginning to recognize the need and are providing start-up grants.

Charter schools are typically prohibited by law from raising funds via bonds or other levies to purchase and maintain school facilities. With limited access to funding, charter schools have often been forced to acquire less-than-adequate facilities. Schools that are unable to purchase school facilities must rent or lease space that may or may not be appropriate as a school setting (Minnesota House of Representatives, 1994). In addition, charter schools must bear the cost of bringing newly acquired or deteriorating buildings up to code.

Technical assistance
Charter schools in several states, including Minnesota, Colorado, Georgia, and Michigan, can request assistance from their state departments of education (Bierlein & Mulholland, 1994b). Yet even within these states, and certainly in others without this provision, charter schools are in need of further technical assistance. Most teachers, and certainly parents, are unfamiliar with planning, management, and budget issues. Specifically, there is a need for assistance with the administration of federal entitlement and special education programs.

Next Page: Systemwide Improvement

Published in Insights on Educational Policy, Practice, and Research Number 5, July 1995, Charter Schools: Early Learnings (Comparison of Charter School Legislation)