Innovations in Education: Making Charter School Facilities More Affordable: State-driven Policy Approaches
December 2008
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PART III District Provision of School Facilities

This third policy approach focuses on making publicly financed space available for charter schools, on the theory that, like all public schools, charter schools deserve access to facilities that have been developed with taxpayers' money. Some jurisdictions have taken this tack by encouraging local school districts to provide facilities to charter schools at low or no cost. A 2005 study by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) found that of the 41 jurisdictions with charter school legislation, 26 permit the use of district facilities for charter schools.62 However, as the study notes, this finding is misleading: In many of these instances, technical authorization of such use has not translated into actual use, while in others, some charter schools are housed in district space but there are no specific laws or guidelines specifying such use.63 No national data are available, but anecdotal information suggests that relatively few charter schools operate on district property.64

Reluctance on the part of many school districts may be the foremost obstacle to making this a meaningful option. Since per-pupil instructional aid typically follows students to charter schools, any resistance on the part of districts is likely rooted in their perception that charter schools are draining funding from the district budget. In addition, some districts view the oversight required to administer the provision of space to charter schools as an additional burden for district personnel, one that might well take time away from their other duties. Nevertheless, this option has clear appeal for charter schools, which, given the option, would much prefer having free or at least affordable access to space that was actually designed for school use, as opposed to having to pay to reconfigure a former shopping mall, office, church, temple, storefront, or any other building that was originally designed as something other than a school.65 This assumes, of course, that the district space is in decent condition, since having to renovate facilities that are in poor condition could easily undercut what might otherwise be significant cost savings.

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Last Modified: 02/05/2009