Charter school missed deadline for extra state funds

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Kate Royals, Mississippi Today

State Charter School Authorizer Board members hear a plea Monday from Dr. Kristi Hendrix back to camera), executive director of Midtown Partners, for more funding.

A state education official said Monday that it is not likely that a charter school’s request for an additional $192,000 for 36 extra students will be granted in time for the upcoming school year.

State law requires charter schools to submit projected enrollment numbers for the next school year in December of the prior year. But officials from Midtown Public Charter School said they were not aware of the deadline, and as a result are stuck with the responsibility of educating an additional 36 students next school year without the accompanying state funds.

Kristi Hendrix, executive director of Midtown Partners, told the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board on Monday the addition of 36 students to the middle school would allow it to expand the number of classrooms per grade from three to four and reduce the class sizes of each, she explained.

“Students respond better to smaller classrooms with more individualized time with teachers, as well as pull out opportunities with interventionists,” Hendrix told the board.

While the board is not required to approve the addition of students under a certain threshold, Hendrix also asked for help with another issue: getting the state funds for the 36 additional students from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Because the estimated number of additional students weren’t submitted to the Mississippi Department of Education in December, when the department collects final enrollment and attendance data to determine the funding amount for every public and charter school for the following academic year, Midtown would not receive the funds until the 2018-2019 school year, Hendrix said.

Hendrix told the board the amount totals $192,000.

Kate Royals, Mississippi Today

Midtown Public Charter School in Jackson 

“This is not asking for additional money … but for the money to be allocated according to where the students will be attending school,” a letter from Midtown Public Charter School Board Chair Babak Mostaghimi to the board stated.

The Charter School Authorizer Board voted Monday to request that the December deadline be waived and the $192,000 allocated to Midtown Public Charter School in the 2017-2018 school year.

The problem is not unique to charter schools. Jackson Public School District officials have expressed frustration at the delay in funding for students who transfer back from the charter school to a school in their district.

“That child — a child could enroll in a charter school in August and they get counted (in the charter school’s enrollment), but suppose by September 30 they come over to us. As long as they stay for months two and three, they’ll be counted in our number for the next year” and not the current year, JPS Chief Financial Officer Sharolyn Miller said. “It’s really kind of a timing game.”

JPS sent the three charter schools around $1.38 million in the 2016-2017 school year, Miller said. The public education funding follows the students to the charter schools.

The letter from Mostaghimi, which was read to the board by Hendrix, said the school was not aware of the December deadline and asked the board to create a manual that includes an outline of deadlines and relevant policies for charter schools’ use.

But Donna Nester, bureau manager for school financial services at MDE, said she is simply following state law when allocating money to schools.

“I do the exact same thing for them (charter schools) as I do for all the districts, with the exception I use their projected enrollment rather than the actual Average Daily Attendance like I do a district,” she explained.

In May and December of each year, the charter school board sends each charter school’s projected enrollment for the following school year to the state. That number is then used to determine the amount of state funding each charter school will get. However, with public school districts, the average daily attendance (the average of the number of students that attended school in the second and third months of the school year) is used to determine the amount of money they will get the next year.

“So, in December of 2016 I had a deadline and they (the charter schools) had to give me their projected enrollment for the 17-18 school year. So if their enrollment changes between December of ’16 and July of ’17, I cannot ask for more money from the Legislature,” Nester explained. The Legislature appropriates school funding money each spring during it’s regular session.

The increase in students at Midtown would result in a total enrollment of 244 students in 5th through 8th grades. The school’s contract initially included 208 students.