Balancing the books: Ivy Prep searching for solution to funding crisis

NORCROSS - Edgar Rosero has nothing but the highest praise for Ivy Preparatory Academy.

He said his sixth-grade daughter, Priscilla, is happy to be an Ivy Prep scholar.

"She loves it," Rosero said of the school. "I love the school more than my daughter (does). ... She's learning more. I can see my daughter growing up."

Ivy Prep, which opened in August in Norcross, has received national attention for its innovation. The first all-girls public school in Georgia is dedicated to preparing its students, or scholars, for admission and success in the college or university of their choice.

Because the state-chartered special school receives no local tax dollars, Ivy Prep is on its way to ending the year in a deficit, said Nina Gilbert, founder and head of the school.

"The financial crisis we are currently in is not the result of fiscal irresponsibility," Gilbert said. "It is the direct result of a funding structure that does not support a school like ours."

Ivy Prep was designed on a budget that requires between $7,500 and $8,000 per student. The school's day is longer than others, offering its students two periods of math and language art, as well as Saturday enrichment classes.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education's denial of Gilbert's proposal meant the school would not receive local funding. When Gilbert took her fight to open Ivy Prep to the state - and won - she expected to receive about $4,500 per student.

In the midst of an economic crisis, the school receives even less than that - about $2,800 per student, Gilbert said.

In other words, Gilbert expected to receive $639,000 from the state this year. So far, the school has received $397,600.

During the era of No Child Left Behind, Gilbert wonders how this funding gap is fair.

"It's a question I ask myself all the time," Gilbert said. "Charter schools have traditionally been underfunded. ... It's not fair when we are required to not just meet the same expectations of other schools; we are required to outperform them."

Gilbert doesn't blame anyone for the school's financial struggle. And the state Department of Education is trying to help.

Between the creation of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and President Barack Obama's support of charter schools, Gilbert said she has hope the financial situation will improve.

But in the meantime, she's looking for a way to raise $342,000.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to make sure our students are successful," Gilbert said. "Failure is not an option here."

Rosero said more schools like Ivy Prep are needed in Georgia.

"We need to keep this school open," he said.