University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

New Report, Same Old Results

In The View from the OEP on April 30, 2014 at 4:38 pm

If you follow our blog, you might remember a recent post and connected policy brief that we put out concerning the disparities in funding between traditional public schools (TPS) and charter public schools.  Our report focused on what funding our local and state lawmakers could control, and found that charter schools received less funding per pupil than their local counterpart traditional charter schools, as well as finding similar results at the state level.

coverSo, we were not surprised when another report came out replicating our findings.  The report entitled “Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands” finds a $2,982 gap per pupil statewide (TPS: $11,374; Charter: $8,392), and a $6,260 gap per pupil in Little Rock (TPS: $14,411; Charter: $8,151).  One number that we had not previously reported was quite startling: “if districts statewide received the same level of per pupil funding as charter schools in [fiscal year 2011], they would have received over one billion dollars less in total revenues ($1,376,329,821)” (Emphasis in the original).

The report handed out A-F letter grades to states, awarding high grades to states with equal levels of funding between sectors and lower grades to states as the TPS-charter disparity grew.  Only three states received grades of A or B, meaning the difference between TPS and charter funding was less than 5%.  Of the 31 states graded (states with charters and with financial data available that allowed the distinction between TPS and charter funding levels), nineteen (19) were given grades of F for disparities of 25% or greater favoring the TPS schools vs. the charter schools.

Arkansas is in the group of 19 states receiving a grade of “F”, because the revenue of charter schools is over 33% lower than traditional schools.  The national average discrepancy is about 28%, so Arkansas charters receive roughly the same “charter funding penalty”  as do most schools across the nation.   Six states and the District of Columbia reported higher discrepancies in funding (Wisconsin, Oregon, and Louisiana had funding formulas that imposed “charter funding penalties” of greater than 40%).

Why such a low grade?  Well, we took some time in a January OEP policy brief, not-so-cleverly-titled “Traditional Public School Funding and Charter School Funding”, to discuss the sources and magnitudes of the funding discrepancies in Arkansas.  Here are our key findings:

  • Just as we expected based on the details of the school funding formula, most charter schools across the state have lower levels of total revenue than their TPS district counterparts. While these overall differences are interesting, the important comparisons are between charter schools and their local traditional peer schools.
  • We looked at Arkansas charter schools in six different regions: Central Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas, and four other regions scattered across the state. While we found a great deal of variability across the state, charter schools generally received lower levels of financial resources relative to their neighboring TPS districts.
  • The TPS-charter differences are very large in Little Rock, where the (over the past four years) total revenue in Little Rock TPS averaged $14,720 per pupil while total revenue in the region’s charter schools was $8,595 per pupil (these figures are quite similar to those found in the new study released today). This represents a difference of $6,125 or 42%.  It is important to consider that the TPS funding levels in the Little Rock region are relatively high due to the significant state desegregation funds allocated to the three districts: on average, the districts received an additional $1,790 per pupil during the four year period.
  • To a great degree, the TPS-charter differences are due to (1) the inability of charters to collect funding from additional local property taxes (above 25 mills) or (2) the inability to to access the state facilities funds.
  • Access to the local millage can generate substantial funds for many districts in the state (for example, in 175 traditional districts, the tax rate in 2012-13 was greater than 35 mills). Moreover, the Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation funding for school facilities is also helpful for many districts — 110 TPS districts accessed a total of $188 million of these funds over the last two years. As of now, charter schools are unable to use these funds.

Perhaps the key takeaway from this new report and our previous policy brief is captured in these few lines quoted from The Economist Blog, posted earlier today:

IN THE bitter debate about charter schools, one of the myths perpetuated by critics is that charters are generously funded by rich donors … This is wrong, and badly so. Research has been mounting that shows that charter schools have in fact less money than their public rivals. 

Whether these funding differences are fair or unfair is a matter of opinion; what is not a matter of opinion is whether they exist or which sector they favor.  Funding differences do exist and they systematically favor traditional public schools versus charter public schools.

Screenshot of The Economist Blog, April 30, 2014

Screenshot of The Economist Blog, April 30, 2014

Full disclosure note: Two of the authors of the new report, Dr. Patrick Wolf and Albert Cheng, are members of our Department at the University of Arkansas, although not a part of the Office for Education Policy or involved with our last report.  We used to like them very much, until their work was cited by The Economist; now we are simply jealous of their success!

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