By Liz Evans
Who is going to stand up for Buffalo’s charter school students? That’s the question I found myself asking last week as I heard news of the paltry per-pupil aid increases (after three years of freezes) and the continuation of zero building aid to charter school students across New York State. The recently adopted budget amounts to a huge loss for Buffalo charters. It stings more than usual because some high-profile and politically connected New York City charter schools were granted both aid increases and facilities funding support.
What I know best is my own high-performing charter school in urban Buffalo. Elmwood Village Charter School was started by six individuals who wanted to create a better alternative in public education. We, and many others, gave our time, energy and our own assets to create an excellent school.
This was a grass-roots effort to establish a not-for-profit school. Currently, EVCS is the highest-rated elementary school in Buffalo and performs head-to-head with some of the wealthiest school districts. We have true diversity in our school and a caring environment full of mutual respect and high expectations.
We are trying to grow in order to offer our programs to more students in Buffalo. If you attend one of our lotteries, you’ll see an emotional affair, with heartbreak evident throughout the room. Last year we had well over 200 applicants for just 31 kindergarten seats. Buffalo needs more public alternatives to our failing district, but we need resources.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo practiced politics as usual when he horse-traded away any meaningful increases – supported in his original budget proposal – and ignored Buffalo’s need for facilities funds.
Instead, we will continue to pay for our buildings out of our fractional per-pupil aid (charters currently receive approximately 30 percent less per pupil than traditional public schools). Remember, we don’t get money from political donors, foundations or venture capitalists to make ends meet. Our insurance, health care, teachers retirement and other costs, however, do increase yearly.
Somehow a politically connected segment of New York City charter schools came out of this budget process with a deal that provides them with free space in district buildings (or reimburses them for rent in private buildings), while Buffalo charters lost $200 per student compared to the governor’s original budget proposal. Doesn’t he understand that the long-term success of his Buffalo Billion ultimately requires an educated workforce?
Our students and our devoted and passionate teachers and staff will keep us moving forward for now. But for the long run we will need the governor and our representatives throughout the state to keep the promise of a good education to all of New York’s children.
Liz Evans is operations manager for Elmwood Village Charter School.