Empire editorial: Charter school needs city funds to thrive

Posted: Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Without help from the Juneau Assembly, and soon, the Juneau Community Charter School could face closure after the next school year.

School officials are requesting $50,000 from the city, and this is an expenditure Assembly members need to be able to make to keep the 7-year-old alternative school, with an arts-based curriculum and strong parental involvement, from closing its doors.

For the coming school year the charter school is facing a $35,000 reduction in funding from the Juneau School District, which is facing other drastic budget cuts of its own, including the elimination of some 26 teachers. Earlier this year, charter school officials feared the school's demise after this school year, but recruitment of enough students and additional state aid may have staved off closure for a year.

The school, which has nearly 57 students in grades K-6, already goes to such lengths as having parents help clean the school, work as aides in classrooms and drive students to school to trim costs. In return, it is asking for more of the share of money the city spends per student in the public schools. That difference is now $5,300 per child at the charter school (which receives state and local funding) versus an average of $7,471 for other students within the Juneau School District.

The charter school, which is itself a public school, is also hoping for an additional $23,000 in funding from the state in basic-needs monies. And it is asking the city for additional funding to help in defraying janitorial and rent expenses.

Part of the funding bugaboo at the state level is this: Charter schools with fewer than 150 students aren't counted as separate schools for purposes of funding; they're lumped in with the largest school in their district, and that results in less money per charter school student than a district usually would receive for its small schools.

The additional money the Juneau Community Charter School is asking from the Assembly would pay for its $44,000 lease with a little left over. And while the city, like most of the rest of the state, has budget concerns of its own, this particular expenditure seems more than worthwhile on its own merits.

The parents and students at the charter school have thrown their backs into keeping their school afloat for the past seven years. It would be a shame for them to lose what they've worked so hard to create, and the Assembly can provide the make-or-break difference with a $50,000 investment.

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