Thorough and efficient...and unfair?
October 16, 2007
A lot has been written about the fiscal impact of charter schools on traditional districts (see here, here, and here--just to name a few). Sometimes the information is accurate; almost always it is biased based on who's presenting it. Ohio's school-funding formula is complex, and the funding math gets even fuzzier when it comes to how the state funds charter schools. Advocates on both sides of the charter-school funding debate are guilty of glossing over the minutiae. But the truth is that students in charter schools in the Buckeye State are short-changed in education funding compared to their peers in district schools.
Charter schools are public schools serving public school children (the General Assembly said so and the Ohio Supreme Court agreed). But charter schools are only guaranteed the state base amount of funding and are unable to levy any additional local dollars as school districts. Nor do they have access to state school facilities dollars. Consequently, they must operate with substantially less public funding than district schools. This funding disparity is clear when you compare school spending.
Consider two similar high schools in central Ohio. Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School, a Columbus city school, served 563 students last school year--69.6 percent of students were black, 73.1 percent economically disadvantaged, and 7.7 percent had disabilities. A central Ohio charter high school, Arts and College Preparatory Academy, served 195 students: 50.5 percent black, 50.9 percent economically disadvantaged, and 14.2 percent with disabilities. Both schools were rated effective by the state. Fort Hayes' performance index score was 95.6; Arts and College Prep's was 90.3. But, last school year, Fort Hayes spent $11,337 per pupil and Arts and College Prep spent just $7,108.
Similar disparities exist in the Gem City. Jefferson Montessori I Elementary School served 471 students--96 percent were black, 99.9 percent economically disadvantaged, and 14.1 percent with disabilities. At the Dayton Academy charter school, 99.7 percent of the 752 students were black, while 42.2 percent were economically disadvantaged and 11.9 percent had disabilities. The Dayton Academy was rated on academic watch by the state and achieved a performance index score of 75.8. Jefferson Montessori I, a district school, was rated in academic emergency and had a performance index score of 67.8. But the Dayton Academy spent $7,721 per student while Jefferson Montessori I spent $11,435. (Disclosure: the Fordham Institute's sister organization, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is the charter-school authorizer for the Dayton Academy.)
These funding disparities are the norm, not the exception. They exist regardless of student demographics and are present in schools at all levels of achievement.
There are 78,000+ students in Ohio who aren't getting their fair share of education funding simply because of the type of public school they have chosen to attend. For those who argue about educational equity this is an issue that deserves to be addressed.