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Major Funding Gaps Between Charters and Regular Public Schools in Many Cities

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Traditional public schools on average received about 29 percent more funding per student than charter schools in 14 metropolitan areas, according to a new study released today. 

On average, charter schools collected about $5,721 less per student than traditional public schools, researchers at the University of Arkansas found. While public schools received about $19,922 on average, charters took in about $14,200 in a weighted average. The amount includes funds that districts get for mandated services, such as transportation.

The University of Arkansas' Department of Education Reform examined the disparities between federal, state, local and non-public revenue sources in the 2013-14 school year for the study, called Charter School Funding: Inequity in the City.

"These results should be troubling to anyone who believes that all public school children deserve access to the same amount of funding, regardless of which type of school they choose," said Larry Maloney, a lead researcher, in a press release.

The biggest disparities came from local public revenue sources, such as property taxes and bond measures. Charters in eight of the cities examined by researchers collected no money from local revenue sources.

"The local revenue gap just creates this huge hole," said Patrick Wolf, a distinguished professor in the department and a study author, to Education Week.

Authors found disparities in every category—and each city had a different makeup of their funding sources.

The most extreme funding gap exists in Camden, N.J., where researchers found that charters take in 45 percent less funding than traditional public schools, amounting to almost $15,000 per student per year. But the Camden school system is one of New Jersey's so-called "Abbott districts," one of 31 urban districts that receive billions more in state education aid each year—a long-running remedy ordered by state courts to address deep funding disparities between poor, urban districts and wealthier communities.

While Camden had the biggest disparity in state aid and the second-biggest gap in federal funds, the city was the only location where charters receive more local revenue than traditional district schools. Also, Camden's charters took in more non-public funds than its traditional district school counterparts.

Houston was the only location to score an "A" for having the most equity between traditional and charter schools with a 2 percent difference. Shelby County, Tenn., where Memphis is located, was the only community with more money—9 percent—allocated to charter schools.

Of the remaining 12 communities, the gap ranged from 12 to 45 percent less for charter schools.

In addition to the one-year snapshot, authors also looked at long-term funding for eight of the locations. While disparities shrunk in three communities, the other five saw their gaps widen, including $11,000 per student in the District of Columbia.

Researchers also found that when they factored in special education revenues— often cited as a reason for larger expenditures in traditional public schools—gaps remained in 12 of the communities.

President Donald Trump's budget proposal includes an increase in funding for charter schools. But Wolf said that money would do little to shrink the gap, if approved, because federal funds make up between 15 and 18 percent of per-student funding. Non-public funds, such as grants and fundraising, also only help in some areas to a minimal degree.

"It would help some, but it's not going to make great strides," Wolf said. "Federal funding is such a small part of it."

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected]

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