Study finds less money, fewer obligations for charters
July 20, 2010
KALAMAZOO--A new study by Western Michigan University researchers shows charter schools typically get less funding than the traditional public schools with which they compete, but those traditional public schools have additional obligations that account for much or all of those funding differences.
That finding is one of several that WMU's Dr. Gary Miron and Jessica Urschel make in "Equal or Fair? A Study of Revenues and Expenditures in American Charter Schools," co-published by the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University.
In their study Miron, professor of educational leadership, research and technology, and Urshel, a graduate research assistant, also point out that, compared with traditional public schools, charter schools spend proportionally more on administration--both in the percentage of overall spending that goes to administrative costs and in the salaries they pay administrative personnel.
Overall, however, the study finds charter schools spend less than traditional public schools--less on instruction, less on student support services and less on teacher salaries and benefits.
Released in late June, the study comes amid a growing debate over the question of whether charter schools are inadequately funded compared with traditional public schools. In recent years, numerous charter school advocates have cited the purported funding gap to help explain charter schools' achievement results compared with traditional public schools.
Miron and Urschel's study is the most comprehensive to date on the question. It uses data from the U.S. Department of Education on revenue sources and spending patterns of charter schools and traditional public schools and districts across the nation. It also examines patterns across nine different comparison groups, ranging from traditional public schools to various sub-groups of charter schools.
Charter schools get $9,883 per student, compared with $12,863 for public schools. But that direct comparison can be misleading, Miron says. States vary considerably in the way they channel funds to charter schools. Moreover, public schools provide--and receive funds for--certain services that most charter schools do not.
"While public schools receive revenues and spend money for such services as special education, student support services, transportation and food service, charter schools, with few exceptions, spend far less on these services," Miron says, "which largely explains the differences in revenues and expenditures for charters compared with traditional schools."
When charters and traditional public schools have similar programs and services and when they serve similar students, funding levels should be equal to be considered fair, the study notes.
"However, as long as traditional public schools are delivering more programs, serving wider ranges of grades and enrolling a higher proportion of students with special needs, they will require relatively higher levels of financial support," Miron says. "Under these circumstances, differences or inequality in funding can be seen as reasonable and fair."
For more information, call Dr. Gary Miron, WMU professor of educational leadership, research and technology, at (269) 599-7965.
Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, firstname.lastname@example.org