In Missouri, public charter schools receive about 25 percent less per pupil funding than traditional public schools. Usually this means that they must fundraise to offset the difference, but a recent study found that even with charitable contributions, there is still a gap.
Some charter school advocates have pushed for the legislature to provide equitable funding for both types of public schools. That has yet to occur. In the meantime, a new charter school in St. Louis is trying an innovative approach. The Biome School, which will open its doors on August 10th, is creating its own revenue stream by packaging its STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) curriculum and selling it to other schools.
The Biome School, in St. Louis’s Central West End, will serve kindergarten through 8th grade students. Out of the 90 to 100 students who applied through word-of-mouth marketing, a little more than 60 are enrolled for the 2015-2016 school year.
“It’s not the answer for everyone, but it’s the answer for us,” Youth Learning Center President Bill Kent Jr. said of charter schools selling products and services to earn revenue.
Kent believes funding for charters cannot just come from donors. “There needs to be a mix of public dollars, donor support, and earner’s revenue,” he said.
While the Biome School may be generating revenue, to be clear, the charter school is not profit-driven. Kent says the Biome School views itself as a “social enterprise,” meaning its sole purpose is to maximize the human capital of its students.
With extra revenue earned from selling educational products and services, the charter school can afford to pay its teachers more, which will help attract and retain much sought-after science and math teachers. But more broadly, the Biome school shows how schools with more freedom can do innovative things inside and outside of the classroom.
I look forward to following up with this school to see how the plan works out.