Budget & Finance

Spending Disparities Tracked Among Charter and Regular School Districts

By Debra Viadero — September 09, 2009 1 min read
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It’s no secret that school districts vary widely in how much they spend per pupil. Among the 100 largest public school systems, for example, per pupil spending in 2007 ranged from a low of $5,048 in Alpine, Utah, to $19,435 in Boston.

A federal report out yesterday, however, suggests that such variation may be even more pronounced among districts made up entirely of charter schools. (Yes, there apparently are such districts and, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 22 states keep data on them. But the regular districts in this study include some affiliated charters as well.)

To minimize the effect of outliers on the results, federal statisticians compared per-pupil spending at the 95th and the 5th percentiles for both traditional public school districts and independent charter school districts. Among the regular districts, per-pupil expenditures ranged from $7,688 or less to $19,549 or more, which calculates to a “federal range ratio” of 1.5. In comparison, spending in independent charter districts had a “federal range ratio” of 2.5. Per-pupil costs for those districts ranged from $4,828 or less to $17,911 or more.

Does this mean that a proliferation of charter school districts will exacerbate disparities among schools? The report doesn’t say. It’s interesting to note, though, that the two types of districts vary less markedly when it comes to revenue disparities. The “federal range ratio"—the difference, in other words, between the top 5 percent and the bottom 5 percent of districts—is nearly the same for charter school districts and traditional public school districts.

It’s also clear from the report that charter schools in these special districts seem to operate, for the most part, on far less money than regular schools in traditional districts. Check out the full report here and let me know what this data says to you. You won’t find any interpretations of the results from the feds.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.