Finally, some fairly credible data
There has been a virtual fur fight going on between supporters and detractors of charter schools regarding the question of whether charters get more funding per pupil than traditional schools. Now, a fairly recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides some interesting data about the subject.
Table 1 below, which is extracted from Table C-1 in the NCES’ “Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 2015–16 (Fiscal Year 2016),” compares current per pupil expenditures for independent charter schools (operated independently of the local school district) to expenditures for non-charter districts plus some districts that operate their own charter schools (which are NOT independent of local district control). It’s an eyewatering sight for those who have heard charter critics claim again and again that charters, somehow, are getting more money.
As you can see, at least for the 25 school systems listed, which all provided such funding breakouts, the claim that charters get more money generally doesn’t pan out. Out of the 25 jurisdictions in Table 1 (24 states plus the DC school system), the vast majority, 21 total, provided more money in the 2015-16 school year to traditional schools than to stand-alone charters. In 17 jurisdictions, the disadvantage in funding for charters is really considerable, running more than $1,000 per pupil.
I was especially interested to see in Table 1 that charter schools in Georgia, on average, get a lot less funding than the state’s non-charter sector. The reason for my interest is that charter schools in Atlanta have been particularly effective for black students, as I show in the score summary in Table 2, which has the latest data from the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Blacks in Atlanta’s charter schools outperformed blacks in the city’s traditional public schools by notable amounts. You can read more about that in this blog.
I also show the 2019 Jefferson County Public School District’s (JCPS) NAEP scores in Table 2. JCPS’ blacks lag Atlanta’s charter blacks by large margins.
Ohio is another state in Table 1 where charters overall apparently get notably lower per pupil funding. Yet, as Table 3 shows, Cleveland’s charters do notably better for black students on the latest NAEP, too (More on Cleveland can be found here). By the way, Table 3 shows how black students in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) in Kentucky scored on the same NAEP assessments.
As you can also see in Table 3, even Cleveland’s charters do notably better for black students than the JCPS traditional public schools do.
To sum up: at least based on the funding data from NCES, the claim that charters are getting more money looks mostly like a myth generated by those who don’t think parents and students deserve choices about where to go to school. And, even though they get less money, charters in at least some of the jurisdictions covered by Table 1 are outperforming, at least for some traditionally lower-scoring students, compared to traditional schools.
It’s time for Kentucky to offer its students the same school choice options that work notably better in places like Atlanta and Cleveland, maybe even at a lower cost, too.