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The Fordham Institute has a new study asking the question, “Do Charter Schools Drain Resources From Traditional Charter Schools?” If you share allegiance with teacher union talking points, you probably think the answer is yes:
Hundreds of NYC educators traveled to Albany on Monday to speak with legislators about how corporate charters drain resources from traditional public schools. The next day, the state Assembly and Senate rejected the governor's proposal to expand charters ✊ pic.twitter.com/SWq5aVe2oI
— UFT (@UFT) March 16, 2023
But you’d be wrong.
David Griffith, an Associate Director of Research at Fordham and a former social studies teacher, ran the numbers. From Griffith:
Opponents of public charter schools frequently contend that they drain resources from traditional public schools—a potentially serious charge. But of course, it makes sense that traditional school districts get less money when they enroll fewer students. So from a policymaking perspective, the real question is whether districts’ financial capacity to meet students’ needs is compromised by charters’ presence. This brief addresses that question and several key questions by synthesizing the latest and most rigorous research on charters’ fiscal and academic impacts on district schools.
Q: Do charter schools increase or decrease districts’ total revenues per pupil?
A: Charter schools may increase or decrease districts’ total revenues per student, depending on who authorizes them, how they impact the local housing market, and the policies states and localities adopt.
Q: Do charter schools increase or decrease districts’ instructional spending per pupil?
A: Competition from charters may push districts to increase or decrease their instructional spending per pupil (though it has mostly positive effects on specific instructional inputs such as teacher salaries).
Q: Do charter schools make districts more or less efficient?
A: While few studies address the efficiency question directly, what we do know suggests that charters make affected school districts more efficient, at least in the long run.
The Bottom Line
In the long run, districts will adjust to charter-driven enrollment declines, just as they do when their enrollments fluctuate for other reasons, so the challenge for policymakers is managing any transition costs—that is, any temporary fiscal or operational challenges that districts face—in a way that is fair to students and taxpayers.
1. Ensure that local dollars follow students to charter schools on an equitable basis.
2. Ensure that any compensatory funding that districts with declining enrollments receive is temporary.
3. Prioritize the needs of displaced students in cases where the consolidation of underenrolled district schools is inevitable.
While Griffith doesn’t address New Jersey, we know that we fit this mold. In Newark, for example, the Newark Board of Education cost per pupil continues to rise, despite increasing numbers of city students attending public charter schools. As Kyle Rosenkrans, head of the NJ Children’s Foundation, points out here, this year the district is spending $24,987 per student, even with 18,000 students in the charter sector. In Camden, home of NJ’s second largest public charter sector, cost per pupil in the traditional district for 2022-2023 is $29,157, three thousand dollars more per student per year than in 2015.