What is the fiscal impact of charter schools on California’s school districts? This is a simple question with no simple answer. Yet policymakers are ready to act… It’s clear this topic (and more misleading studies) will come up in more states soon. Journalists, editors, and editorial boards should take time to educate themselves on it so the public can separate fact from hyperbole and scare tactics. Districts do have a hard time adjusting when enrollment declines because of charter schools or other reasons. Charter schools, as we have argued, did not cause the problem, but they can be part of the solution. Misleading studies only deepen the divisions. Journalists can help bridge these divides by providing skeptical coverage and digging into the details.
How can it be that some studies find enrollment shifts to charter schools harm district finances, while others seldom find harm and often find benefits to students? The studies look at different outcomes, so it is possible that districts struggle financially but succeed in insulating students from harm. To sort out financial and achievement effects, we need coordinated studies in particular cities, analyzing the effects of charter growth on district finances and tracing these through school funding and instructional practices to effects on students. The question of effects of charter growth on district schools and students is important enough to warrant thorough and objective study: a sample of districts impacted by charter schools with careful review of financial challenges, district responses, consequences for school operations, and student results. But until such studies are done, people with different perspectives will remain in well-established warring camps.
Officials from Chicago Public Schools and most city charter school networks have agreed on a new formula setting the amount of taxpayer dollars that go from the district to each privately managed, publicly funded campus. The new formula returns the charters to the student-based budgeting model that district schools use, including a 2.5 percent increase that amounts to a funding boost of $19 million, according to CPS. CPS said the formula needed tweaking in the wake of the state’s new school funding formula, passed in 2017; the new formula is credited with greatly improving the perennially cash-strapped district’s financial footing. It also resulted in a windfall for charters, requiring districts to provide between 97 and 103 percent of per-capita tuition to charters, up from the 75 to 125 percent range previously required.
The Center on Reinventing Public Education released three briefs that shed light on the debate surrounding charter schools in California. In short, they conclude that Charter schools are not a major driver of recent enrollment declines in California’s school districts, there is no evidence that charter schools are to blame for school districts entering states of fiscal distress, and charter schools have, according to available evidence, important benefits for California communities and limited costs to the state.
Also see Afton’s five-part blog series “How Districts Can Afford High Quality Schools, Despite Enrollment Decline,” which offers actionable recommendations for school districts facing enrollment loss, with or without charter schools.
Several months ago Robin Lake critiqued a report by Dr. Gordon Lafer and published by In the Public Interest (ITPI)…the report continues to inform policy deliberations in California, where a commission is weighing charter school policy changes and lawmakers are considering a five-year moratorium on new charter schools. Lake outlines methodological concerns with the report which include (among others), the “fiscal impact” analysis’ focus on charter school growth, ignoring the many other causes of district enrollment loss, and the assumption that all students attending charter schools had transferred from a district school.
Multi-state analysis of charter school proposals and approvals reveals a diverse sector shaped by authorizers
A new report released today by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) offers a never-before-seen look at trends in charter school applications, approvals, and denials. The report, Reinvigorating the Pipeline: Insights into Proposed and Approved Charter Schools, reveals a diverse charter sector with a tremendous variety of applicants, educational models, and operator types, as well as the integral role authorizers play in shaping the public education landscape across the country. “More than three million students attend charter schools across the country, but up until now, we knew very little about who and what was being proposed,” said Greg Richmond, NACSA President and CEO. “The data reveals a much more diverse school pipeline than the charter sector is often credited for. We simply don’t see the homogenous sector driven by billionaires and for-profit schools that gets talked about so often.”
While last year’s teacher walkouts were focused primarily on stagnant wages and crumbling classrooms, the strike demands now are more far-reaching. Teachers are pushing back against education reform policies such as charter schools and performance-based pay. They’re also fighting for social-justice initiatives like sanctuary protections for undocumented students. Although some experts say there’s a risk of losing public support as teachers become more political in their demands, the strikes so far have retained community involvement and have all been relatively successful. Even as the protests move from red states to blue cities, there is still a coherent narrative in place: Teachers are underpaid, asked to do more with less, and fed up.
At the urging of Gov. Gavin Newsom, a bill that will require charter schools to be more accountable and transparent is making its way swiftly through the legislature and may be the first of several bills seeking to tighten oversight of charter schools. Senate Bill 126 would require that California charter school boards comply with the same open meeting, conflict-of-interest and disclosure laws as district school boards, including holding public board meetings, opening records to the public upon request and ensuring board members don’t have a financial interest in contracts on which they vote.
Just hours after West Virginia teachers went on strike for the second time in a year, the state House of Delegates voted, 53-45, to indefinitely table an omnibus education bill the educators saw as retaliation for the job action they took last February. But while Senate Bill 451 — loathed by teachers because it proposed establishing the state’s first charter schools and funds for private school vouchers — appeared dead, the state’s three biggest teachers’ unions continued the strike for a second day on Wednesday to “make sure this is a dead deal.” The vote prompted the teachers’ unions to announce they would return to classes on Thursday.
Chicago’s second charter school strike ended early Monday with the teachers union winning concessions on pay raises for teachers and paraprofessionals that will put their salaries on par with educators at non-charter schools. CICS had warned during the strike that it could face bankruptcy if it implemented all of the union’s demands. In a statement Monday, the network said that “In order to pay for such a significant salary increase, we will be forced to make certain cuts and compromises. For example, we will likely need to limit the number of instructional coaches, assistant principals and other valuable support staff members.”