Charter school legislation exists in 34 states and the District of Columbia. School year 1998-99 saw nearly 1,100 charter schools open their doors serving over 250,000 students in 26 states. This fastgrowing reform movement has not been without its bumps in the road. All charter schools report financial barriers such as a lack of start-up funds, inadequate operating funds, and inadequate facilities to be the three largest barriers in developing and implementing their charters.
These fiscal and resource barriers tend to affect newly created charter schools more than converted (former public and private) schools. Over 80 percent of newly created charter schools reported at least one financial or resource barrier. Facilities challenges are especially acute for newly created charter schools. According to a U.S. Department of Education study, in “cases where schools have difficulty finding appropriate facilities, our fieldwork suggests that the entire school start-up process can be impacted.” The importance of facilities cannot be underestimated. As the number of charter schools increases, the need for adequate facilities will also increase.
To address this problem, states with charter schools can learn from the satellite school partnership experiences between private-sector businesses and traditional public school districts. To help alleviate crowding in schools, and with greater demands on school-district resources, the private sector has formed over 30 public-private partnerships nationwide, providing school facilities at the work site to serve the children of employees. These investments are paying off for the sponsoring companies, the school districts, and the children being served.
Companies investing in facilities and maintenance for schools at the work site experience reduced absenteeism, lower turnover rates, and increased productivity. Employee-parents tend to be more satisfied at the job. Savings experienced through lower turnover and increased productivity provide employees with returns on their investment that more than make up for the costs.
Students at these satellite schools also appear to perform better than their traditional school-district peers. In math and reading, students in the Dade County School District satellite schools consistently perform better than the national average and other Dade County School District students on national standardized tests.
Florida, the pioneer in satellite schools, is also the pioneer in stimulating charter school-business partnerships. Newly passed legislation allows for businesses and charter schools to come together to serve the children of the host business. Other states should consider following the lead of Florida in legislative action as one providing adequate facilities for charter schools.