If there is one thing I have learned after 12 years of founding a successful charter public school in Fulton County, it’s that we’re constantly expected to do more with less. We currently do not operate on a level playing field, and unfortunately it deprives students of the funding they deserve.
Like most public charter schools in Georgia, Amana Academy has to pay all its own facilities costs. That means we had to lease and purchase our own building — and in North Fulton real estate is not cheap. Our yearly facilities expense amounts to $1,000 per child, which has to come straight out of our operating budget. In the meantime, traditional schools get to invest that same amount into their educational program. Charters were also left out of millions of dollars in SPLOST funding, so zero funds go to renovate our building or add technology. This is especially challenging given that district charter contracts require charter schools like mine to outperform traditional schools if we want to remain open.
Against these odds, Amana Academy has become the only STEM certified middle school in our county. That’s because we put every available dollar into the classroom. But the lack of money for facilities and maintenance has taken its toll. Right now, we can afford to pay our mortgage payments; and as part of our bond agreement we are required to have 30 days cash-on-hand. However, once we pay mortgage-related expenses, educator salaries and curriculum related costs, there is nothing left for facilities upgrades. At the moment, our 30-year-old roof needs to be replaced. That means every time it rains, there are leaks throughout the building. We would love to be able use a portion of our funding to fix the roof and improve our physical space, but nearly all of our money goes to educational resources.
Clearly, the funding we’re devoting to education is working ─ our middle schoolers are outperforming 99 percent of their peers across the county and the state; we are among the top 5 percent of Title 1 schools in Georgia; and we are the first K-8 school to earn STEM Certification from the Georgia Department of Education. In fact, we were recently awarded a Technology Association of Georgia STEM Education Award for our Certified STEM School Outreach efforts. That means both traditional and charter public schools throughout the state are coming to us to learn how to become STEM Certified. Imagine what else we could do for students and our community if we could put all of our operating funds into the classroom, instead of funneling $1,000 per student into our facility every year!
During the last legislative session, legislators took an important step to level the playing field for Georgia charter schools by approving House Bill 430. The bill passed and was signed into law by Gov. Deal, after parents, teachers and charter school leaders like myself met personally with legislators who were unaware of the funding shortfall that charters face. HB 430 creates a new $100,000 annual block grant for every public charter school to use toward their facility needs. However, despite the bill’s passage, one huge problem remains: state lawmakers still need to put the funding approved in the bill into the state budget.
A hundred thousand dollars per charter school is small in comparison to the actual need, but it is a good start. That’s why we call on state lawmakers to appropriate funding for HB 430 in the fiscal year 2019 state budget. This funding will allow charter schools to start addressing their facilities’ needs without having to shortchange vital instructional dollars that can have a transformative impact on student achievement.
By Ehab Jaleel
executive director of