Focusing On Per-Pupil Spending, Report Says Charters Don't Hurt District Schools

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In a report published Wednesday, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation says charter schools don't drain money from district schools. That's one of the principal points of contention in this fall's debate over Question 2, which would lift the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts.

The report was paid for by a grant from The Boston Foundation, although a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation spokesman said The Boston Foundation had no editorial control of its contents.

In the report, the fiscal watchdog group found no evidence that charter schools are over-funded or that district schools are suffering from a loss of support. But like everything connected with school funding, the full story may be more complicated.

Eileen McAnenny, the president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, says the group's report shows that charter schools get about 4 percent of the education budget, and serve about 4 percent of the students.

"It is proportional," she said. "That's appropriate, because a cornerstone of the education reform law is that education funding should follow the student."

McAnenny said that's confirmation that Massachusetts' charter school legislation is working as intended.

The report also notes that some traditional districts with charters now spend more per pupil than they used to, others less, and still others about the same.

But a press release from Save Our Public Schools, an anti-charter campaign organization, accused the report of ignoring the fact that the state has fallen short in reimbursing district schools for students who left for charters since 2013, contributing to existing budget deficits. Opponents to the Question 2 measure have alleged that Massachusetts school districts will lose $450 million to charters in the next fiscal year.

Some districts, including Boston, have raised their spending per pupil only by taking money from other parts of the city budget. Districts also have to pay transportation costs for every charter student — a cost not included in the per-pupil amount they send to charter schools.

Other costs complicate the picture still more, said Gary Miron, a fellow at the National Education Policy Center who studies charter-school finances. Miron had not seen the report but said per-pupil funding is an incomplete way to measure the impact of charters.

"It's important to recognize that the same amount of money isn't always fair or equitable," Miron said. For example, he said, district schools often have higher special-education costs.

Updated to note that the report was paid for by a grant from The Boston Foundation, and to remove a reference to charter schools keeping funds even if a student returns to a district school. While this is true in some states, in Massachusetts, the district school's funding is adjusted to reflect the return.

This article was originally published on September 28, 2016.

This segment aired on September 28, 2016.


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Louise Kennedy Contributor
Louise Kennedy previously worked with The ARTery and as editor of Edify.



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