Be True To Your School, The Need For Parity in Public School Funding (by Justin Brandon)

justin.brandon15-Justin_CP ImageIntroduction

My name is Justin Brandon and for my community theme I chose education, specifically funding for education in the Public Charter School System. I have a vested interest in this topic because both of my sons attend a Public Charter School in the North Clackamas School District. Over the last several years I have become more and more interested in the topic and a recent assignment for my writing course at Portland Community College allowed me to dig deeper into the challenges and successes that Cascade Heights Public Charter School has to endure due to receiving substantially less per student funding then the other Public Schools in the area receive.

Thank you for taking a moment to read my essay. I realize that not everyone will have the same direct connection to the Public Charter School system that I have, but this is not just my problem. This is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed. When you pay state taxes, then a portion of those taxes go to pay for the education of today’s youth, who I need remind you, are our future. All children who desire to receive an education from the Public School System should be funded equally so they all have the opportunity to soar!

Becoming More Informed: A Proposal

“What the hell is this? Why are we being asked to pay the kids school $1200?” I thought to myself after opening the two envelopes I had just received, addressed “To the Parents of Tate and Jay.” I can completely understand $15 for their weekly planners for their assignments. And I am fine with a $40 contribution to class field trips. But when the school requests over $600 per child for their general fund, it takes a big bite out of our already tight family budget. You see… my kids attend a Public School, a Public “Charter” School which should be funded very similarly to all Public Schools in Oregon “…with tax dollars which are allocated per student from our school district” (Cascade Heights). The biggest difference? My children’s school receives less money per student. This means that the public school down the street gets more money per student from the district than our school does. An article in the quarterly publication, Education Next, substantiates my claim by stating “Charter schools across the country receive less funding than regular public schools” (Williams 12) Thinking about this disparity makes my blood boil. All children that receive an education from the Public-School system have a right to receive the full funding provided by state legislators for their education. Period.

In 1999, The State of Oregon Legislature approved the Oregon Charter School Law. Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 338 allowed for the creation of independent public schools that operate under a charter agreement with local school board of directors. The school district is responsible for allocating funds to the charter schools in their district. “Charter Schools in the State of Oregon are funded on a per pupil basis from each residents districts’ state provided General Purpose Grant Allocation. These funds are provided to district authorized charter schools on a per student basis using a formula established in state law.” (Kitchen 1)

In an effort to gain a better understanding for the way that funding is distributed, I reviewed ORS 338.155 which is located here online at www.oregonlaws.org. Iwas looking for the formula mentioned above and was unable to locate it. I was able to find some additional information though. Section (2)(a) of ORS 338.155 applies to Cascade Heights Public Charter School, whose student base educates students from Kindergarten through 8th grade. It reads “A school district shall contractually establish, with any public school that is sponsored by the board of the school district, payment for provision of educational services to the public charter school’s students. The Payment shall equal an amount per weighted average daily membership of the public chart school that is at least equal to eighty percent of the amount of the school districts General Purpose Grant as calculated” (Oregon Revised Statute) under the State School Fund distribution computations for school districts.

As I dove deeper into researching the funding dilemma in the Oregon Charter School law, I became more and more frustrated that this is even an issue. I feel so strongly this is something that parents of children who attend public schools should not have to worry about. I work well over 40 hours a week at my job, and between the kids playing sports and recently returning to college to finish my degree, this is not a topic I thought I should ever have to deal with.

As a part of my writing course at Portland Community College this term, we were tasked with performing at least 8 hours of community involvement, also known as volunteering, at a location of our choice. I chose to spend my time volunteering at Cascade Heights. Last year, Cascade Heights’ volunteers logged over 15,000 hours of volunteer work. I contacted the Director Kristin Macy to organize my community involvement, requesting any projects the school needed help with, but didn’t know whom to ask. My first day, as Mrs. Macy and I were walking towards the office, I brought up the shortage of funding. Mrs. Macy had recently tried to sell a corporate desk furniture set that was given to the school. “The Spanish class really needs new notebooks” she said. I grumbled something about the unequal funding we receive and brought up the 80% I had seen online. “It’s less than that” She said “Our school receives roughly 67% of the per student allocation”. I kept my composure, but inside I was reeling over what I had just heard. If I pay the same taxes as everyone else, why do my children receive substantially less funding other students do? I didn’t know what I was going to do or whom I was going to contact, but I knew I needed to do something.

Then it hit me. I was already doing something. I had taken personal time away from my day job to volunteer. Volunteering is one way that Cascade Heights has bridged the gap in funding. There are many opportunities to volunteer at Cascade Heights and over 25 of them are listed on their website, in a section appropriately titled “Get Involved”. Some opportunities are very short and take less than 1 hour, such as reading to 2nd Graders or helping in the Library. There are those other opportunities that require more of a commitment, such as regular janitorial duties and grounds keeping (Yep! Students, parents, and other volunteers take on regular janitorial and grounds keeping duties in an effort to stretch the dollars we do get.) One of the greatest commitments once can make is being a member on the school board (a three-year commitment). State law, ORS 338, requires all Charter Schools to have a board of directors that works with the local school district on behalf of the school to advance the schools mission. Our school district has several Public Charter Schools it supports. One Charter school in our district has a curriculum based on art and music and another is a Spanish immersion school. There are several additional charter schools in the North Clackamas School District, all with their own ideas of educational goals and objectives.

When I arrived for my first day of volunteering at the school, there was a miscommunication and the administrators had left for the day. At first I was bummed and felt as if my time and commitment wasn’t as important as I thought it would be. As I was waiting for further direction, the children started to leave for the day. Several of the students from my kids’ class waved and said “Have a nice day Mr. Brandon” and “Thank You” as they walked by. I had made a point to make sure my sons knew I would be at the school, volunteering, that afternoon. This brought my spirit back up and raised it to a whole new level! They, the children, were why I was at Cascade Heights that day. This is their school and I would do whatever I could to instill pride in it. I too could teach them, by example, that if you believe in something enough to give your time and energy, then it must be important.

Most of my volunteering did not go as I had planned. I had these day dreams of painting the gym or performing some form of manual labor that wouldn’t be done if someone like me hadn’t stepped up. For my first job, after some juggling of schedules it was decided, what was really needed was for some organization to the schools Uniform Closet. This is where old uniforms are recycled for students to purchase for very little money. There were multiple large bags filled to the brim that needed to be sorted and hung. Not exactly what I expected, but nonetheless, I got the job done, with a smile and sense of accomplishment. My next assignment the following week, the supervising administrator was out sick for the day. I had already taken the afternoon off, so offered to come anyway and do whatever they needed. I had my yard blower and trash bags in the car, so I was ready when I suggested cleaning up the school yard. Director Macy was thrilled and I know that when the children hit the playground the following day for recess, they too were probably ecstatic with all the garbage picked up and play structures cleaned off. I will be continuing to volunteer regularly at Cascade Heights, after the end of this assignment. There is still much work to be done.

And I am not done yet. Not until the permanent funding issues with Charter Schools are resolved and all children that attend Public Schools receive equal per student funding. I have a Public Records Request pending with North Clackamas School District to better understand the funding or lack of funding issues in regards to Charter Schools. I have acquired the contact information for my Oregon House Representative, Karin Power and Oregon State Senator Kathleen Taylor who both represent my district. While building these relationships will take some time, I am dedicated follow it through. To quote the famous hit by The Beach Boys from 1963, “Be true to your School.” (Beach Boys)

CITATIONS

Cascade Heights Public Charter School. N.p., n.d. Web. <www.cascadeheigts.org>.

Williams, Joe. “Games charter opponents play: how local school boards–and their allies–block the competition.” Education Next, vol. 7, no. 1, 2007, p. 12+. Academic OneFile,  Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

Kitchen, Matthew. Study of Oregon Charter School Funding. Rep. Portland: ECONorthwest, 2015. Print.

Oregon Revised Statute 338, Pub. L. No. Oregon Legislature-155, §§ 155-(2)-(a) (1999). Print.

Wilson, Brian, and Mike Love. Be True to Your School. The Beach Boys. Springboard, 1963. Vinyl recording.

Short Annotated Bibliography

The community problem I am addressing is Funding, or should I say lack of funding, in Charter Schools. I chose to perform my volunteering this term at the school my kids attend, Cascade Heights Public Charter School. We have been a part of the Cascade Heights community for over 6 years and are often asked to volunteer in order to “Bridge the Gap” or help to make up the difference between the funds that the school receives from the district and the cost of educating a student.

Cascade Heights Public Charter School. N.p., n.d. Web. <www.cascadeheigts.org>.

This citation is taken from the Cascade Heights Public Charter School Website. The specific section is titled Get Involved and is an overview of the challenges Cascade Heights faces as a result of not receiving full funding per student. The entry touches on the average full cost of education, what Cascade Heights receives as a on average per student and how the school overcomes this deficit through keeping expenses under control and “Close the Gap” contributions. The author is not listed, but I assume due to the detail, it is the work of several of the schools top administrators and the schools board. This entry directly connects to my research because it is written and posted on the very topic I am writing about.

Williams, Joe. “Games charter opponents play: how local school boards–and their allies–block the competition.” Education Next, vol. 7, no. 1, 2007, p. 12+. Academic OneFile,  Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

This citation is taken from the quarterly journal publication, Education Next. Education Next is a “Journal of opinion and research about education policy.” Education Next has several high profile sponsors, Stanford University and Hoover Institute, which I feel gives them credibility as a source in my essay about the unequal funding between Public Schools and Charter Schools. The Mission Statement makes this even clearer by stating “In the stormy seas of school reform, this journal will steer a steady course, presenting the facts as best they can be determined, giving voice (without fear or favor) to worthy research, sound ideas, and responsible arguments.” The author, Joe Williams, a nationally recognized analyst and speaker on education policy, is currently employed as the director of the Walton Education Coalition. He previously worked as a journalist for the New York Daily News and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This article solidifies my claim that there are large disparities between traditional Public School and Charter School Funding.

 Kitchen, Matthew. Study of Oregon Charter School Funding. Rep. Portland: ECONorthwest, 2015. Print.

This citation is taken from a study performed by ECONorthwest for the Chalkboard Project. ECONorthwest is a Portland, Oregon based firm that specializes in economics, planning and finance reporting, helping clients make sound decisions. The Chalkboard Project is a non-profit that works to bring together Oregonians to make Oregon K-12 public schools among the nations best. According to The Statesman Journal, the local Salem Newspaper, the Chalkboard Project has “emerged as the most trusted voice on education reform in Oregon…” The author, Matthew Kitchen, has a Master of Public Administration degree from University of Washington and has of 15 years of experience in planning and development. This study details specific data and information to better understand Charter School funding in the State of Oregon.

 Oregon Revised Statute 338, Pub. L. No. Oregon Legislature-155, §§ 155-(2)-(a) (1999). Print.

This citation is taken from the Oregon Revised Statutes or ORS. The ORS is the codified or systematic way of arranging or structuring statutory laws or codes governing the US State of Oregon. There is not one author because Oregon Revised Statutes are a work product of the Oregon Legislative Assembly and sometimes by citizen initiative. The information contained in this statute was helpful in researching the intent of the legislature and the methods that are in place for funding to be funneled to the Charter Schools.

Wilson, Brian, and Mike Love. Be True to Your School. The Beach Boys. Springboard, 1963. Vinyl recording.

This citation was taken from a song from my childhood. I heard it on the radio while driving, contemplating my community involvement at Cascade Heights and thinking about my culminating project for my writing class. It felt like one of those moments when you’re driving around a huge parking lot and a space opens up right next to the front door of the store you need to go into. I was able to locate the actual vinyl album in my collection of records I received from my father. While the lyrics aren’t about charter school funding per se, the chorus struck a chord, and made me feel that including the title of the song as part of the title and in the conclusion of my essay was a testament to my support for my cause.

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Jack Bello

    This was a fantastic read. I loved the opening narrative you used to explain the time when you realized you passion for the topic of education and the need for change that is there. You immediately caught my attention, and I was absolutely hooked into your writing. This was so important for the rest of your writing, because it ultimately set the tone or the rest of the writing. The tone you set was very emotional which showed the passion you had for the subject. Passion is very easy to support, especially when you back it up with good evidence.

    Your evidence was very good and through, and for the most part I was able to track with the defense of your argument. However, there was parts of your argument that were difficult to follow. Some of the information I felt was unnecessary, because you already made your point efficiently enough. As a person that has a passion for the education system as well, I was very impressed and enthralled by your paper. You’ve discovered a real problem in our educational system, and you did a great job making a strong claim and backing it up. Excellent read! Thank you.

  2. I agree with Jack that your passion and personal connection are particular strengths in this proposal! Thank you for speaking up on this important issue!

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