Charter Funding Op-Ed Published

NJ State Legislature: Enact Fair Funding for both Traditional and Charter Public Schools

Compass Academy Charter School is a K-5 public school in Vineland, Cumberland County, the county with the highest illiteracy, second highest unemployment, and highest poverty rates in the state. We do amazing things teaching our children about how they learn and helping them develop as accomplished learners and individuals to take in the world around them and respond appropriately. They experience great personal growth as children and as learners. We do this through a research-based, innovative, trademarked, advanced learning system called the Let Me Learn Process®. We hold monthly “Making Sense Days”—taking the students out of the classroom to explore new and previously learned content and allow students to examine the topics within a real world context. We also engage students in month-long service learning projects to connect them to the community.

Thankfully, our students do not see the financial struggle their school faces with the decreasing per pupil funding, and funds that could go to their school, but are withheld by the sending districts.

At the core is the fact that all 150 Compass Academy students living in Vineland are counted in Vineland Public School’s population—meaning Vineland’s funding from the state is increased by 150 students, but Vineland doesn’t incur the cost of educating them.

From 2013-2016, Compass Academy’s base per pupil rate of state aid was $7045 and decreased to $6433, while Vineland’s base rate started at $9536 and increased to $9721. How is it students in the same geographic and economic area are funded at two increasingly disparate levels annually?

By state law, charters should receive 90% of the base per pupil state aid a district receives. Compass Academy receives 68%. If we were funded at 90% of Vineland’s state aid rate this year, we would receive $8686 for each Vineland student instead of $6485—amounting to $330,150 that Vineland keeps.

Vineland, like traditional public schools, receive aid for students they do not educate or transport. Transportation ($4.2 million), PARCC readiness ($100,000), and student growth ($100,000) funding nets Vineland another $73,200. This is aid charters are prohibited from receiving.

The most grotesque though is adjustment aid. Adjustment aid is outside the education funding formula and is distributed by legislators—rewarding politically connected schools. Adjustment Aid is unavailable to (but not prohibited from) charters and causes the greatest funding discrepancy.

Vineland received $34.4 million in adjustment aid this school year and certainly counted the 150 Compass Academy students in its census. Since Vineland is not obligated to pass that funding along, they pocketed $556,950.

All totaled, Vineland receives $13,852 per pupil in state aid alone—but only passes $6485 per student to Compass Academy. In reality Compass Academy is only 46.8% of per pupil funding—not 90%. As a result, Vineland keeps $1,175,037 for 150 students they pretend to educate, but never have to. When the facts are truly laid out there, charters don’t take money from traditional public schools. Traditional schools profit immensely from charters.

Even as the worst funded charter school in the entire state of New Jersey, we at Compass Academy will continue to live our vision and mission; continue to equip students to understand themselves as learners and use this knowledge with intention; and continue to develop their potential to achieve within their families, school, the work place, and the greater community—but having fair funding would make that mission much easier.

Joel T. Johnston, Lead Founder
Compass Academy Charter School
23 W Chestnut Ave., Vineland, NJ 08360
joel@compassacademycharter.org