Advocacy

The Real Cost of Charter Schools

Study: Public school students bear cost of unchecked charter expansion

A first of its kind analysis finds that public school students in three California school districts are bearing the cost of the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools — coinciding with these districts’ deep, wrenching cutbacks and layoffs.

“Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts,” a report by In the Public Interest (ITPI), states that charters cost Oakland Unified School District $57.3 million per year; San Diego Unified School District $65.9 million per year; and East Side Union High School District in San Jose $19.3 million per year. The cost in Oakland means $1,500 less in funding for each student who attends a neighborhood school.

“Our analysis shows that the continued expansion of charter schools has steadily drained money away from school districts and concentrated students with high needs in neighborhood public schools,” says University of Oregon political economist and professor Gordon Lafer, who led the study.

How does this happen? When a student leaves a neighborhood school for a charter school, all the funding for that student leaves with them, while all the costs do not. This includes building rent or mortgage; maintenance and utilities; custodial, cafeteria, education and administrative staff; instructional materials; and technology purchase and maintenance.

This leads to cuts. “The high costs of charter schools have led to decreases in neighborhood public schools in counseling, libraries, music and art programs, lab sciences, field trips, reading tutors, special education funding, and even basic supplies like toilet paper,” Lafer says.

He notes that the number of California charter schools has increased by more than 900 percent to more than 1,200 schools over the last two decades.

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The report recommends that public officials at local, county and state levels be empowered to consider economic impacts on neighborhood schools when deciding whether to authorize a new charter school. A bill that would implement this recommendation, SB 1362, is currently before the Legislature. (Another bill that would have addressed the recommendation, SB 808, has died in the Senate.)

What is the cost in your district?

In the Public Interest has designed a template to enable any California school district to calculate the net fiscal impact of charter schools in its community. Visit HowMuchChartersCost.org for more information, including how to calculate the fiscal impact of charter schools in your district.

Watch In the Public Interest’s video on how charter schools drain money from public school districts.


Transparency & Accountability

The original intent of charter schools in California was to improve student learning while encouraging the use of different and innovative teaching methods and creating new professional opportunities for educators. It was important that charters were developed at the local site level and with the full participation of stakeholders including educators, school board members, parents and community members.

Some of these charters are student-centered and deserve our support. But many do not hold themselves to the same standards traditional public schools are held to, and are run by profit-driven charter management organizations that make important decisions far from classrooms and communities. The lack of accountability and transparency has paved the way for corruption and mistreatment of students and staff at an increasing number of corporate charter schools. Lack of transparency in funding, as seen in the report by In the Public Interest, hurts students at traditional public schools.

CTA supports the movement to return to the original vision and make sure charters are transparent and accountable, and serve our communities. For more information, go to kidsnotprofits.com.

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