Study: Charter schools are less well funded

May. 06, 2014 @ 05:18 PM

North Carolina received low grades over funding disparities between charter and district schools in a recent report. 

The report, “Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands” was released by the University of Arkansas and found that in Fiscal Year 2011, the 98 charter schools included in the study received about 17.2 percent less funding than district schools. 

Comparisons were made to previous research on FY2003 and FY2007. For North Carolina, the researchers looked statewide and at Wake County in particular. In 2003 and 2007, the state was given a “C” grade and in 2011 it received a “D” grade. 

Eddie Goodall, executive director of the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association and a former state senator from Union County, said the results were not a surprise. 

“We knew that charters were funded at 15 or 20 percent less than district schools,” Goodall said. 

Charter schools receive the per-pupil funding from the state allocated to the county. When a student attends a charter school, the home school district transfers the child’s per-pupil share, according to state law. They receive additional funding for students with special needs or with limited English proficiency. They do not receive capital funding. 

“Because the counties don’t build facilities for charter schools, they have to take the money for books and teachers and spread it further,” Goodall said. “There’s no place to put the kids, so the charters have to take that money they receive and find facilities on their own.” 

Goodall said as the law currently stands, charter schools may go to local districts and lease or acquire an unused school building, but as of 2013, if the district and charter cannot come to an agreement, the county commission can become the arbiter. 

Union County’s charter school, Union Academy, is in a facility leased from Union County Public Schools. 

According to the University of Arkansas study, charter schools in the state educate 2.9 percent of public school enrollment but only receive 2.4 percent of total revenues.

The study identifies two probable causes for the disparity: disparity by design and disparity as a result of revenue access or distribution.

The study noted that charter schools, by law, can access allotments from the “local school expense fund” from their home school district, but not revenues from the capital outlay fund. 

The study also stated that there are two separate state funding formulas and the formula for determining traditional school district funding is not applied to charter schools because they use the per-pupil allotment.

“Therefore, a charter school’s funding is not calculated using its own staffing inputs or student characteristic criteria for various allotments,” the study reads. “This scenario may be to the advantage of some charter schools but for others with high-risk populations or staffing costs above and beyond the local district average, it limits funding.”

The study also stated that charter schools do not have independent access to categorical funding or supplemental funding they would otherwise meet the criteria to receive if their home district does not qualify. It said that restricting charter school revenues to the district average limits the revenues charter schools could be receiving and ignores the needs of the actual population being served.

The report said it is unclear why charter schools receive “substantially lower” amounts of federal funding because they serve high percentages of at-risk and disadvantaged students, along with a high percentage of special needs students. 

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Goodall said that every year he was in the senate he submitted a bill allowing county commissions to provide capital funding to charter schools.

He said the law as it stands does not allow county commissioners to fund charter schools or their support organizations. 

“We think that’s wrong,” Goodall said. 

“We understand budget constraints across the board,” he said.

He said that given that, charter school advocates have asked at a minimum to share in the lottery capital funding in the state as well as have the law changed to make it clear that county commissioners may, if they desire, fund charter schools or charter school support organizations for facilities.

“We’ve asked for that for several years,” he said. 

Goodall said it is “surprising” that a Republican and pro-charter majority took over the General Assembly and have not recognized the request. 

“The charters, we have never made a lot of noise about having total parity,” he said. “We’re used to doing more with less. What we think would be extremely reasonable would be to help counties fund charters.”

According to the report, charters received an average of $3,509 less per-pupil nationwide. In North Carolina the average was about $1,700 less. Both numbers were taken from the FY2011 funding.

“This study has tremendous local, state and national policy implications,” Larry Maloney, lead researcher of the University of Arkansas team, said in a statement. “These findings tell us conclusively that public charter schools tend to receive far less money, and that inequity from state-controlled funding is most clearly responsible for the gap in funding. The research cannot explain, however, exactly why local governments provide students in public charter schools with so much less money for their education than they provide students in traditional public schools.”