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Study: Charter Schools Still Get Fewer Public Dollars

Stop the presses. A new study finds that charter schools get fewer public dollars, on a per-pupil basis, than do public schools in the same districts. Still.

Released earlier this month by researchers at Ball State University in Indiana, the report builds on an earlier 18-state study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Drawing on 2002-03 data, the Fordham study found similar funding disparities between charter schools and public schools.

This time around, the Ball State researchers analyzed data for the 2006-07 school year, added in statistics for seven more states, and updated the methodology. At the state level, the new study found, public schools on average scored 19.2 percent more per pupil—or $2,247—than charter schools. That gap was no bigger than it was in 2002-03, according to the study, and a little smaller in some states.

In a smaller number of "focus" school districts, however, the researchers found that gaps had grown over the intervening five years. In those districts, public schools were getting an average of $3,727 more per student than the charter schools within their boundaries. And that disparity, the report says, is 4.6 percentage points wider than it was in 2002-03.

Although you might think that the funding gaps exist mostly because charters serve fewer special education students or poor pupils, this analysis suggests those aren't the primary reasons for the disparities. The main problem, they say, is that charters get less access to public facilities funding and local district dollars.

What I wonder, though, is whether this report takes into account the dollars that many charter schools get from foundations and other private donors, which in some cities, such as New York, have been quite generous. How much do they narrow the funding gaps?

UPDATE: I later got a response to this question from Larry Maloney, a researcher who participated in both the 2005 and 2010 reports. He says both studies accounted for private support for the public charters. Here's what he had to say:

"The 2005 and 2010 studies include the traditional funding streams (local, state and federal), as well as a category called Other. For this study, Other included non-taxpayer dollars, such as return on investments, activity fees and philanthropy. With Other included in the analysis, we found the disparity to be 19.2 percent for the states and 27.8 percent for the 40 focus districts in the study.

The research team received a question after completing the publication asking what the disparity would be if Other was not included in the calculation. If Other is not included, the disparity rises from 19.2 percent to 26.4 percent for the states and from 27.8 percent to 30.5 percent for the 40 focus districts."


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