Do charter schools receive their fair share of funding?

While a recent study funded by the Walton Family Foundation found that traditional public schools in five large urban cities received, on average, $4,000 more per student than charter schools within those cities, does this prove that charter schools are being short changed as the authors’ suggest?

The answer is simply, no. This latest study just compares revenues received—both public and private— between traditional public schools and charter schools. While the authors do attempt to make a more apples-to-apples comparison, by excluding revenues traditional public schools receive for Pre-k and adult education as well as adjusting for certain student demographics, whether it’s a fair comparison is questionable according to some school funding researchers.

Keep in mind, however, the study only examines how much money is received not how the money is spent. So basically they are arguing that all charter schools should receive the same amount of funding no matter what services they provide. By that logic, a charter school that provides no extracurricular activities and where the district actually pays for the transportation of the charter school’s students should receive the same per-pupil funding as the traditional public school counterpart, which offers numerous clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities as well as transportation for their own students. Extracurricular activities and transportation are not luxuries in traditional public schools. These are services most local taxpayers expect their traditional public schools to provide but many charter schools do not, so it wouldn’t be fair to taxpayers to provide the same funding to charter schools that provide fewer services.

To accurately determine whether charter schools do in fact receive their fair share of funding requires comparing how much funding traditional public schools receive for the same services and same type of students to what charter schools provide. Unfortunately, such a comparison is quite difficult for a variety of reasons. As we found in our report Charter Schools: Finding Out the Facts researchers have attempted to make such comparisons but the finance data available for both charters and traditional public schools makes such comparisons nearly impossible, particularly on a large scale. Yet, only when such comparisons can be made can it be determined if charter schools get the short end of the stick when it comes to funding.—Jim Hull

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