iLearn explains lower cost of educating students at charter schools

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Guam Department of Education (PNC file photo)

Guam – The Guam Department of Education spends $11,000 per student of a regular public school and $6,100 per student enrolled in a charter school —  showing a difference of $5,000— based on the fiscal-year budget request for 2020.

“The amount is real,” Francis Santos of iLearn Academy Charter School told the legislative committee on appropriations. “It is an absolutely real number. They get more money than we do. Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is, ‘What’s the difference between a GDOE public school student and a charter school public school student?’”

Guam has three charters schools— iLearn Academy Charter School, Guahan Academy Charter School and Science is Fun and Awesome Learning Academy— which are all funded through GDOE budget. While charter schools are under the GDOE umbrella, they have different focus and mission, operating like a private school.

Santos defended the smaller cost charters school spend on each student, explaining that their expenditures are based on the allocations they receive under the department’s budget.

“In simple math, it’s taking the number of students and dividing it by your budget. But the way I do it is you take the appropriated amount and divide it by the number of students you’ve got,” Santos said.

“If you want to argue the merit of $11,000 (vs) $600,” Santos said, ” I don’t think we want to go down that road because I heard a statement from [Education] Superintendent [Jon] Fernandez that he wanted to empanel a committee to look at the per-pupil cost.”

Sen. Joe San Agustin, committee chairman, underscored the significance of private schools– without them, he added, GDOE would drown in funding and logistical deficiencies.

“I keep reminding DOE [that] when I look at the numbers and I look at what you’re asking for and what you’ve been getting, we spend more money on students at DOE than we do at charter schools,” Agustin said. “It doesn’t matter because if it weren’t for the private schools, DOE would drown today.”

Fact checking on the figures posed by Santos indicates that although GDOE spends more per pupil, it is not $11,000. That figure is based on the requested budget for the current fiscal year of $324 million. The approved budget was $220 million, putting the actual average cost per-GDOE-student closer to $7,500. Still $1,500 more than the charter schools.