City schools face off for funding

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In the Greater Pittsburgh region, there are 247 K-12 schools, including 161 public schools and 86 private schools. With the nation’s growing emphasis on “school choice” more and more schools are competing for not only the attention of parents, but also the attention of private and public donations.

The recent education budget cuts at the state level left public schools in the region struggling to find ways to adjust to funding losses. With these recent cuts and their impact on the Pittsburgh Public School District, many are left wondering how the region’s public charter schools and private schools are affected.

Since private schools do not receive public funding, they are not required to publicly report their annual budget or list of donors.

Pittsburgh charter schools are largely funded by charter reimbursement from the PPS. This means the PPS must pay a charter school 70 percent of the average cost of educating a student admitted to their school.

“The main part of the budget comes from the district so if the district is cut we’re cut,” said Vasilios Sccumious, CEO of Manchester Charter School. “The district gets to hold on to 30 percent and the district has to pay for transportation.”

Both public and charter schools receive their funding from federal, state, and local governments, while private schools receive their funding from private donors. However, while public and charter schools are categorized as public institutions, they can also receive funding from private foundations.

“We’re free to do whatever we need to do,” Sccumious said. “We do get some endowment money. We’ve had some national donors and we’ve had some local. We’ve received money from the Heinz Endowments. We get some federal grant money. We were recently starting to do more fundraising.”

The Heinz Endowments is a substantial donor to education in Pittsburgh. In 2010 they gave $300,000 to Propel Charter Schools, $100,000 to the Pennsylvania Charter School Foundation, $75,000 to Northside Urban Pathways, and $600,000 to Imani Christian Academy, which is a private school. They also gave $1 million to the Pittsburgh Foundation to support the PPS.

According to the most recent data release by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the PPS spent $15,350 per student on current expenditures in 2008. Fifty-three percent was spent on instruction, 44 percent on support services, and three percent on other elementary and secondary expenditures.

In comparison, the average per student cost for the six Pittsburgh charter schools included in the data was $12,784. The lowest per student cost found in the group was $6,172 at Academy Charter School, but this was extremely low when compared to the other schools which all saw per student costs of more than $11,000. The highest per student cost of 17,682 was at Career Connections Charter School.

City High Charter High School had a per student cost of $11,512. Manchester Charter School had a per cost of $12,063. In the $14,000 range, Northside Urban Pathways came in at $14,421 and the cost at Urban League Charter School was $14,853.

Recently the PPS approved a few additional charter schools, which will add more institutions to the already crowded region. Among them are Propel Charter School, an organization that operates seven other schools in the Greater Pittsburgh region.

“We have eight schools, one of them is in the city and the others are in the areas surrounding the city. Propel schools are charter school so we’re funded in the same way they are. We’re always looking for ways to expand our offerings,” said Jeremy Resnick, executive director of Propel Charter Schools. “The way charter school funding works is based on where the students live. When the school districts where they’re living are experiencing issues with funding we’re expect less.”

(This is the second part of a four part series comparing the Pittsburgh Public School District with other school districts in Allegheny County.)

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