Budget & Finance

Charter Schools Receive Inequitable Funding, Says Report

By Alyssa Morones — May 01, 2014 3 min read
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When it comes to public school funding, charters are getting the short end of the stick, researchers from the University of Arkansas say in a new report. The truth behind the numbers, though, remains up for debate.

The report, Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands, examines funding inequities that exist for public charter students, according to Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which posted the findings on its website this week. According to the report, traditional public schools receive an average of $3,059 per pupil more than traditional charter schools—a gap that’s larger in urban areas. This gap has increased by more than 54 percent between 2007 and 2011.

The inequity is caused mostly by differences in state-level funding, according to the report.

“The underlying causes of state funding and inequities are structural in nature,” said Jay May, a researcher at the University of Arkansas, in an interview with Education Week.

Dollars that flow outside of the funding formula or funds from city agencies that charters cannot access are two contributors to funding disparities.

“For me, this is a matter of equity,” said Larry Maloney, also a researcher. “Particularly when you look at the type of students in charters. They’re not the elite of our country. They are students with high need.”

While the disparities in funding reported by the study are the aggregate of a number of sources, the researchers call on states in particular to close these gaps. State practices that widen the funding gaps include denying charters some funding distributed to traditional public schools in the state funding formula, prohibitions on access to local funding, and reduced or no access to public facility funding.

The issue of charter funding and the disparities that exist may depend on the methods used to do the calculations, though.

“For me, this is not research that’s helping draw good policies,” said Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University who researchers and evaluates school reforms and education policies.

Drawing on his own previous analyses, Miron contends that charter schools already have a cost advantage that may not be captured and explained by the data.

“Special education and student support services explains most of the difference in funding,” said Miron. “Charters can get a lot more funding, but it would require that they enroll more students with severe and moderate disabilities. They aren’t enrolling these students.”

Other categorical funding, such as that distributed for vocational education, would also bring more funding to charters, should they choose to provide it.

In fact, in his studies, Miron found that charters have a cost advantage, because charters do not have to provide the same services or have the same expenditures as traditional public schools.Transportation costs, for example, are an area in which charters have a funding advantage. Districts are required to provide student transportation while charters are not.

Miron also disagreed with the report’s claim that charters do not receive more private and philanthropic funds than traditional public schools. He said that the tax forms and school audits he examined in his own research revealed considerable money that comes into charters from private sources.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly implied that the authors of the University of Arkansas study had relied on federal data to draw their conclusions. The study is based on audited financial statements for the 2010-11 school year collected from 30 states and the District of Columbia with substantial charter school populations. It includes both public and private sources of funding.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.