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Charter Schools Facing Budget Cuts Due To Shutdown

ST. PAUL (WCCO) -- With the shutdown coming to an end and the budget moving into special session, many organizations, especially schools, are realizing there will be less money available from the state.

Charter schools rely heavily on state funding, but now face a 40 percent withholding in their annual budget.

On Tuesday, charter school advocates held a rally at the State Capitol, asking to be put on a level playing field with public schools in terms of interest rates. Right now, public schools can borrow at rates around 1 percent, while charter schools borrow at rates between 10-20 percent.

At a time when most public school students are enjoying the summer off, kids at Concordia Creative Learning Academy are still hard at work. As one of the state's 162 charter schools, CCLA offers opportunities to help students in ways that traditional public schools don't.

"I have three kids and we had some who were below grade level coming in. Within one school year, academically, they went up more than one grade level," said Robert O'Conner, whose kids attend CCLA.

Under the budget proposal, several CCLA programs could be on the chopping block, including one-on-one tutoring, physical education and even field trips. All are opportunities that make charter schools unique.

"With heavy emphasis on reading and math, those are the things that get cut first. But, they are really enriching to program," said Matthew Moore, an administrator at CCLA.

Like public schools, charter schools have had to deal with funding cuts in recent years. O'Conner, who's also a member of the CCLA board said the school has had a 17 percent, a 27 percent and now a proposed 40 percent cut within the last few years.

"If they're taking 30 percent this year, 40 percent next year, who knows what they're going to do the year after that," said Moore.

CCLA teachers have taken the brunt of the cuts, going without pay increases for three years. The concern now, their sacrifice is no longer enough.

"The children will be the ones suffering. The grown-ups, we'll make do with what we have, but it's the kids," said Julie Radcliff, a teacher at CCLA.

While lawmakers put the finishing touches on a budget agreement, back in the classroom, there's an unspoken question: Has a balanced budget cost more than 28,000 charter school students in the state a quality education?

"Worst case scenario for a lot of schools is they will face closure," said Moore.

If charter schools can't get the lower interest rate, the hope is that the state funding level will stay at 70 percent versus the proposed 60 percent.

Gov. Mark Dayton has not commented on whether the lower interest rate would be an option for charter schools.

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