Higher-quality products justify greater investments. Full stop. Unfortunately, when it comes to charter schools, states almost universally reject this logic. A new study out of the University of Arkansas examines the per-pupil funding of charter schools (which outperform traditional public schools, nationally) in the thirty states and D.C. that have substantial charter-school populations and found that charter schools, on average, received a whopping $3,814 per pupil less than traditional public districts in 2011—a 28.4 percent disparity. This means that the average charter school, which enrolls 400 students, receives about $1.5 million less per year than a district school of the same size. Just one state, Tennessee, provided greater per-pupil funding to charter schools (15 bucks more per pupil). Moreover, researchers found that this huge disparity has increased by 55 percent in the last eight years, even as charter-school performance has improved. So whence comes the disparity? It turns out that the major culprit is local government funding: district schools receive an average of $5,230 from local government sources, while charter schools average only $1,780. Local governments are stacking the deck against charters, even though charters do a better job of educating local students. It’s not hard to understand why; charter schools don’t have taxing authority for operational expenses or capital costs, and few school districts have chosen to share their bounty. Local policymakers—mayors, we’re looking at you—might want to reconsider that policy.
Meagan Batdorff, et al., Charter School Funding: Inequality Expands (Fayetteville, AR: Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas, April 2014).