Three On Charters

Three quirky issues you don’t hear enough about in the conversation about charter schools:

Funding. Isn’t it sort of ridiculous talk in declarative terms about whether various charter schools and charter school networks are sustainable when charter schools are so chronically underfunded?  A new study from Ball State (pdf) rolls up the issue and updates the Fordham study from a few years ago.

Quality.   The role that school districts have played in creating lousy charter schools (and how to improve things) doesn’t get a lot of attention in the quality conversation.   A new report from NACSA* rolls up authorizer demographics (pdf). Districts are not the only culprit here but when the National School Board Association cries foul on charters, it’s worth considering where some of the lousy ones come from and whether they should have the only keys to the car…

Bad Cues. Recent data from Michigan is interesting.   Michigan and Ohio have a much higher concentration of for-profit operators than other states.   The CW is that the for-profit operators there are all lousy rip-off artists.  Yet some of the best** schools in the state are run by an EMO. Certainly a lot of garbage in the for-profit K-12 sector, but perhaps how the IRS looks at organizations isn’t the smartest way to judge them overall?

*I’m on the policy advisory board.

**In terms of test scores (h/t on word precision to Premack).

4 Replies to “Three On Charters”

  1. Does the reported inequity or disparity in funding take into account the amounts of per pupil spending from other sources? Where I have worked in charters, the per pupil is significantly higher than per pupil in the public schools due to the external and foundation support.

  2. Read it. From the report –

    Gathering Revenue Data

    We studied revenues, not expenditures. Our mission was to examine how charter schools are treated in state public finance systems, so we focused on how much money schools receive rather than how they spent it. An expenditure study would be fascinating, though given what we learned about data availability, it would also be extremely difficult. We looked for the following data and supporting detail:

    Revenues: We included all revenues, except as noted below, for both district and charter schools. Our goal was to determine the total amount of revenue received to run all facets of a school system, regardless of source. For charter schools, we included one-time revenues associated with starting the school, such as the federal Public Charter School Program and, in some cases, state and private grants.

    Arguably, one-time revenues could be excluded since they are not part of a charter school’s recurring revenues. However, they are a notable part of the funding story for the charter sector; when considering how much money the public devotes to charter schools, these revenues cannot be ignored. Furthermore, we also included onetime grants of various kinds to districts. (It should be noted though, that charter schools likely rely more heavily on these start-up funds than do district schools, so including them probably understates the charter funding shortfalls.)

    Enrollment: Where more than one form of enrollment data were available, we used the figures related to the official count day rather than self-reported data. Depending on a state’s particular method of reporting enrollment, the official count could be either Average Daily Attendance (ADA) or Average Daily Membership (ADM). In some states, this is a weighted funding figure.

    K-12 Schools Only: Where identifiable, we excluded revenues and enrollments associated with adult education or preschool. This study is intended to focus on K-12 education only. We dedicate a separate chapter to Pre-K funding.

    Bonds And Loans: We excluded bond proceeds and other revenue readily identifiable as loans to be repaid. For example, if a district issued $200 million in bonds for school construction in a given year, we did not count that as revenue. To do so would greatly overstate the amount of resources available for the district’s ongoing costs. We did, however, attempt to count any ongoing revenue streams received by schools for debt service (paying off such bonds and loans) and other capital needs.

    Indeterminate Revenues: We categorized revenue as “Indeterminate” when it was not possible to ascertain its origin (e.g., local, state, federal, or other).

    Selection of Schools: All charter schools in each locality were included in this study with the exception of schools for which we could not obtain valid revenue data. If we could not obtain revenue data, the enrollment for those schools were excluded from the study.

    Demographic Data: To better understand the funding gaps in each state, we collected data on students eligible for free or reduced price lunch programs; schools participating in Title I programs; and grade levels served. These data appear in Figure 5 in each state chapter. It is important to note that, since some schools choose not to participate in the free and reduced price lunch program even though they enroll significant numbers of low-income children, these data exclude district and charter schools that reported zero free and reduced price lunch students.

  3. I scanned the report, so if this question is answered in there please tell me.

    It seems that we can talk about per pupil funding all we want, but the answer to why charters an average have lower per pupil numbers should be fairly easy – they don’t pay their teachers!

    You would think they could get “access” to “equal” funding if they stepped up to the plate and decide to invest in a quality teaching force – unionized and certified!

    Does the report talk about the differences in funding for teacher salaries? I would think charters spend significantly less on their teachers than traditional public schools. And, I would think the percentage are per pupil expenditure going to teachers in traditional schools is higher than in charters – again explaining the differences in funding.

    Are there numbers on this? Am I barking up the right tree here?

  4. While the Ball State study is well-intended and was conducted by smart folks, the state-level financial databases do not offer the level of precision needed to gauge whether states fund charters on par with traditional schools. EdResearcher notes some of the problems above–and there are many more (e.g., indirect state funding provided through subsidies to teacher and public employee pension systems, etc.).

    Smart wonks should also know that having high MEAP scores doesn’t necessarily make the high-scoring EMO-managed schools “some of the best in the state.” In fact, it’s entirely possible that National Heritage Academies and others are simply creaming a high-performing population of students and basking in the afterglow.

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