A new study by researchers at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville says the funding gap between public schools and charter schools in major cities — including Little Rock — is growing.
During the 2015-16 school year, the school year with the most recent and reliable data available to date, according to the report, public charter schools received an average of $5,828 less per pupil than students in traditional public schools. That represents a funding gap of 27%, and is a slight increase over the two years before that.
The 49-page report is called “Charter School Funding: (More) Inequity in the City,” and can be found at this link. It examines all sources of revenue including federal, state, local and nonpublic dollars during the 2015-16 school year in 14 cities across the nation that have a high concentration of enrollment in charter schools.
The cities with the greatest total funding disparities include: Camden, N.J., at $14,671 per pupil per year; Washington, D.C., at $10,258 per pupil; Atlanta, Ga. at $8,894 per pupil; Oakland, Calif., at $8,587 per pupil; Little Rock at $5,783 per pupil; Indianapolis,Ind., at $5,611; Los Angeles at $4,797; and Tulsa, Okla., at $3,752.
According to the study, “students in cities, often those who are most disadvantaged, are routinely being forced to sacrifice around one-third of their educational resources when they enroll in a charter school,” said Larry Maloney, a consultant who is lead researcher for the UA team. “In this study, we see that overall, there is a persistent and worsening funding disparity which results in significantly fewer resources for students who opt out of their traditional public schools. In other words, urban parents are paying the price of about $5,828 each year in order to opt into a public school environment that they perceive to be superior to their residentially assigned institution.”
Public charter schools are public schools that are granted operational autonomy by their authorizing agency in return for a commitment to achieve performance levels specified in a contract. Like traditional public schools, charter schools are prohibited from charging tuition, must not discriminate in admissions or be religious in their operation or affiliation, and are overseen by a public entity.
Unlike traditional public schools, however, most charters are open to all students who wish to apply, regardless of where they live. If a charter school is over-subscribed, random lotteries usually determine which students are admitted. Most charter schools are independent of the traditional public school district in which they operate.
The first public charter school was established in St. Paul, Minn., in 1991. In 2015-16, according to the report, there were more than the District of Columbia.
The UA report is the penultimate in a series of four studies the past two years by the university that examined charter school funding. An update to the 2018 charter school productivity report is scheduled to be released in 2019 as the final report in the series.