Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands

Building upon kindred analyses in FY 2003 and 2007, this magnum opus from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas examines charter funding across the land in fiscal 2011 and finds that per-pupil charter revenues fall drastically short of what their surrounding districts take in. We learn that U.S. charter schools, on average, received 28 percent less than comparable districts. Unfortunately for Ohio’s 100,000-plus charter students, the Buckeye State’s charter-funding disparity is almost as bad as the national average: 22 percent less than districts. Worse yet, that shortfall is considerably larger in Cleveland and Dayton (the two cities in Ohio where the researchers did a deep dive analysis) than the statewide average. Cleveland’s charter schools received 46 percent less than district schools, Dayton’s charters 40 percent. (The per-pupil revenue for Cleveland’s charters was $8,523 versus $15,784 for the district, and the per-pupil revenue for Dayton’s charters was $8,892 versus $14,732 for the district.) Given the long history of dreadful achievement by those two urban school systems, it’s shameful that the principal alternatives available to needy youngsters in those cities are so egregiously underfunded.

What’s the explanation? As in many states, Ohio charter schools do not have access to local revenue streams or facilities funding. (That dual problem continues, save for a few schools in Cleveland.) Although Ohio has changed its school-funding system since these data were gathered, the new formula produces similar revenue amounts for charter schools and would likely reveal similar disparities. In the end, the analysis gave Ohio, along with twenty other states, an ignominious F for its charter-funding laws and practices; Tennessee was the only jurisdiction to earn an A. Public charter schools—and the parents and students who choose them—deserve a funding approach that doesn’t treat them as second-class citizens.

SOURCE: Meagan Batdorff, et al., Charter School Funding: Inequality Expands (Fayetteville, AR: Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas, April 2014).

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