State Senator Carrie Buck (R-Clark) at a press conference announced Senate Draft 333, which would raise $ 10 million in public funding for charter school facilities through the creation of a corporate tax credit program. (Courtesy photo of the Nevada School Choice Coalition)
A new bill targets what charter school operators have long wanted: earmarked money for their buildings.
Nevada Charter Schools receive dollars per student from state distribution schools’ accounts, but they do not receive facility funding that is generated at the county level through property taxes. School districts get both.
Charter school officials say this means an additional $ 1,200 per student for school districts.
“This inequality doesn’t suit me,” Senator Carrie Buck (R-Clark) said Wednesday during a press conference announcing the introduction of a law to address this funding gap.
Buck, a Clark County School District principal who became the principal charter school director, is currently the president of the Pinecrest Foundation, where she raises private money for the Pinecrest network of charter schools.
Senate Act 333 would raise $ 10 million in public funding for charter school facilities through the creation of a corporate tax credit program. Companies would donate money to a charter school facilities fund to receive credit for their amended business tax. The money raised would then be distributed to charter schools based on the number of students enrolled who qualify for a free or discounted lunch.
Proponents of the law call it an innovative way to better fund charter schools that serve low-income students.
Renee Fairless, director of Mater Academy East in Las Vegas, said 15% of her school’s per-student dollars are spent on equipment costs.
“Every dollar that goes into the facility diminishes the needs of the students,” she added.
Mater’s student body is 100% free and suitable for discounted lunches, making them the ideal beneficiary of SB 333.
“Think about how much you could pay your employees,” said Buck.
Fairless added, “Think if that money wasn’t spent on facilities – the interventionists who could be brought in.”
If a company provides money for a charter school, the measure will reduce the company’s state tax burden along with state revenue by the same amount.
If SB 333 were passed law and fully funded by companies claiming tax credits, it would drive charter schools not to match funding facilities with districts, but rather “It’s a small amount to start with anywhere,” says says the senator’s first term.
Buck also believes that the availability of facility funding for schools that serve low-income students would encourage new charter schools in low-income areas. One of the biggest criticisms of charter schools is the lack of diversity compared to the state population. According to the Nevada Department of Education, 39.4% of students enrolled in state-sponsored charter schools are eligible for free or reduced lunch (FRL), while 72.5% of students across the state do.
Similarly, charter schools lag behind in enrolling students with Individual Education Plans (IEP) and English Learners (ELL).
State-sponsored charter schools enroll 10.9% of students nationwide. For comparison, 13.3% of the students in the Washoe County School District and 65.5% in the CCSD are enrolled nationwide. Nevada’s rural school districts make up the remaining 10.2% of enrollment.
And charter schools are growing faster than public school districts.
The 2019 democratically controlled legislation abolished a proposed moratorium on the growth of charter schools and instead passed a law requiring the use of an “Academic and Demographic Needs Assessment” during the approval process. New charter schools should address at least one of the following target areas: students with special needs (i.e. FRL, IEP, and ELL students), neighborhoods with underperforming schools, or low-credit students who are at risk of failing to graduate.
It remains to be seen whether the Democrats will accept SB 333. The bill is not intended for a hearing.
Charter schools are considered public schools because they receive public funding. However, they are not subject to the same regulations as district schools. Greater autonomy is intended to enable better outcomes for students.
However, this autonomy comes with a compromise.
Charter schools currently have the option to hire unlicensed, non-union teachers. You also don’t have to provide transportation for students who are not within walking distance. Flexibility in areas such as transportation and teacher salaries can save charter schools money. (In particular, school districts are not given special means of transport.)
However, the lack of dedicated facilities results in expenses for them that the district schools do not have.
Many charter schools work with retrofitted former shop fronts or rooms in the buildings of other schools or organizations that they rent.
But many charter schools have found other means of building new school facilities. As the name suggests, the Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund exists specifically to help charter schools secure their own facilities.
Such private investment funds enjoy lucrative federal tax breaks that make them attractive to investors and have long been a funding model for charter schools. The charter school pays the mutual fund for an institution with school income, ie public money that is made available to the schools by the state.
The Mater Academy East is currently building a new facility with the help of Turner-Agassi. Mater is one of several Nevada charter schools and is operated nationwide by Florida-based Charter School Management Company Academica. Turner-Agassi and Academica have already worked together to establish several charter school facilities in Nevada.
The new Mater Academy East campus will cost the school $ 2.1 million a year, according to Principal Fairless. If nothing changes, this money is paid out of the school’s basic allowance per student.
It will also make $ 43,000 worth of air conditioning repairs that the school recently needed at its current location. Fairless said she’s still figuring out how to pay for this.
School districts, of course, have their own concerns. Many district schools are aging and in need of repair.
But Fairless and Buck say they don’t see the problem as a charter school versus district school.
“But if I look at 15% of my budget for facilities and the district never has to think about it, something is wrong,” she said. “I think it’s not something a headmaster should ever think about.”