By Aubrey DeBoer
The National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC), an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter School Programs (CSP), is currently leading the first-ever effort to collect a national dataset on charter school facilities through the National Charter School Facility Survey (Facility Survey). For this seminal effort, NCSRC team members have gathered data from a nationally representative sample of charter schools to appraise the state of charter school facilities—school buildings, campuses, and recreational facilities—and to identify prominent shortcomings in the facility landscape. The four-month data collection effort ended on February 28, and a resulting research paper will follow in 2023.
Unlike traditional public schools, public charter schools are neither guaranteed a school building nor dedicated facility funding. NCSRC hopes that the data collected through this survey can shed light on the need for increased public support of charter schools’ access to quality facilities and sufficient funding at the federal, state, and local levels.
CSP has previously funded state-level surveys, but when MSG secured the contract in 2018, we proposed one large, national survey. The Department of Education (ED) agreed, changing the effort from yearly, state-level surveys to a national survey completed over the length of the project.
MSG staff developed the survey and based their methodology on previous state-level surveys and an earlier ED survey that examined the condition of America’s public school facilities. Charter schools were included in ED’s earlier sample, but data from charter schools were not disaggregated from the larger sample and therefore the study report did not discuss findings specific to those schools. The previous survey also did not address the unique facilities issues that charter schools face, including financing and access.
The OMB-approved Facility Survey includes 45 questions in six areas that cover the following topics:
- General school information about the charter management structure and the year the school opened.
- School facility characteristics and conditions, including the age of school buildings, facility conditions, and amenities.
- Facility ownership and plans, which includes questions on shared use of facilities and schools’ future facility plans.
- Facility maintenance and renovation, which collects information about funding for the upkeep of school facilities.
- Facility funding and financing, as well as expenditures related to renting or owning charter school facilities.
- COVID-19 pandemic impacts on facilities, which collects additional information about the impacts of the pandemic on school facility funding and operations.
Currently, this task is focused on data collection and analysis. NCSRC researchers hired and trained a team of 25 local data collectors to call schools from the sample in states across the country and promote participation in the survey. The survey itself was administered to 875 randomly sampled schools (approximately 10% of all U.S. public charter schools) between September 30, 2021, through February 28, 2022. NCSRC leveraged support from the local data collectors, charter school support organizations, and state departments of education to encourage schools’ participation and achieve a response rate greater than 55%, far exceeding industry averages. Schools have overwhelmingly supported this survey, and frequently reported their desire to participate, but many encountered significant barriers due to staffing turnover, unfulfilled positions, and school closures due to COVID.
In the final year of this effort, NCSRC will analyze the survey response data to produce a report and disseminate findings to the charter school sector and policymakers. The report will include new information on the role that federal or local policies play in alleviating facilities challenges for charter schools, the resources that charter schools leverage to alleviate facilities inequities, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on school facility access and funding, among other topics.
Read more about charter schools and NCSRC’s research at https://charterschoolcenter.ed.gov/.