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No, LeBron James' 'I Promise' School Won't Cost Akron Taxpayers $8 Million More Per Year

LeBron James speaks at the opening of the I Promise School in Akron.

Late last month, LeBron James and the City of Akron officially opened the "I Promise School," a public school started in conjunction with the basketball star's foundation to assist underprivileged and at-risk students in his hometown.

The I Promise program has been around in the city for a decade, and has been assisting students at all of the city's public schools.

The new school brings them under one roof, centralizing the focus of James' foundation's efforts.

The initial coverage of the I Promise School's opening was probably not as clear as it could have been in how funding for the school would work. Like every other public school, it receives taxpayer, state, and federal funds. James' $2 million donation, and additional $2 million per year pledges, are going to fund many of the things that make I Promise different from the standard public schools.

It was never feasible for James or his foundation to pay for the entire school in perpetuity; in that case, it wouldn't be a public school at all. Full private funding for public schools is not allowed.

A few days ago, after a story in The Plain Dealer, many started to latch on to the fact that taxpayer money would be used to fund the LeBron James 'I Promise' School.

You wouldn't know from all the national coverage that LeBron James isn't paying for everything at his new I Promise School in Akron.

He's paying for part of it. A good part of it.

But it's also a public school within the Akron school district, which means that taxpayers will pay for the bulk of the costs.

The exact breakdown of expenses for the new I Promise School is unclear, since the district and the LeBron James Family Foundation are still sorting out final details of their contract. But the district will pay more than half the costs - perhaps around 75 percent - once it is fully running.

A number of articles framed this non-revelation as a drain on Akron taxpayers. PolitiFact looked into the claim, and verifies that the school will not cost citizens an extra $8 million per year, as various outlets have been arguing.

Before the opening of James’s school, the I Promise program had been in Akron elementary schools for more than 10 years. There are 32 elementary schools and kids from all those schools were in the program but now in one location.

"It’s not a new program, not new students, not even a new building," (Akron Public Schools spokesman Mark) Williamson said.

Point being, taxpayers were going to pay for the students whether or not James got involved.

[...]

"All we’re doing is taking kids that we already support and putting them in a different location," he said.

The cost of educating the students is consistent. So are the teachers’ salaries.

The opening of this school puts all the students in the I Promise program under one roof from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., July through May. There are no additional costs because the district didn’t hire any new teachers or recruit new students.

Politifact rated the initial story as "half-true," which seems generous since it seemed intended to bash LeBron and mislead the public.

The headline and subsequent story might leave people thinking James’ school will be a drag on taxpayer resources. But taxpayers are paying the same amount of money they’d pay whether or not James got involved. James’s foundation is funding enhancements meant to try to elevate students attending the school.

The LeBron James Family Foundation's contributions went to upgrades for the school building, which was previously housing other schools as they were undergoing their own renovations. It will also provide a GED program for parents of I Promise Students, job placement programs, food for students. Each I Promise student is also receiving a bicycle.

It is those factors that differentiate the I Promise School from the rest of the Akron school system. However, it is still a public school, so taxpayers are supporting those students. Just like they were last year. The relocation of those students, and huge upgrades to the facility are not part of that burden.

So no, LeBron James isn't costing the city of Akron more money. The new school just centralizes the efforts that he has been putting into his hometown for a decade.

[PolitiFact]