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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 06/29/2010

Two new studies on charter schools

By Valerie Strauss

Here are some highlights from two separate studies on charter schools that were released Tuesday:

* Public charter schools generally receive less funding than traditional public schools, according to a new report released today, but most or all of these funding differences can be connected to the additional obligations that the traditional schools have.

* Charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement in reading and math. However, these averages mask wide variation across individual charter schools in their impacts.

The studies come amid a growing debate over the question of whether charter schools are inadequately funded compared with traditional public schools, and if/how they improve student achievement better than the traditional schools.

There are now nearly 5,000 charter schools in a majority of states and the District of Columbia serving some 1.5 million students, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan has supported a growth in the number of these institution. In fact, states wishing to win federal money in Duncan’s Race to the Top contest had to pledge to open more charter schools.

One study was released by Mathematica Policy Research, which reported on its Education Department-funded study of 36 charter middle schools across 15 states.

It compared outcomes of students who applied and were admitted to these schools through randomized admission lotteries (lottery winners) with the outcomes of students who also applied to these schools and participated in the lotteries but were not admitted (lottery losers).

Among its findings:

*Charter schools in the study were more effective for lower income and lower achieving students and less effective for higher income and higher achieving students. In addition, charter schools in large urban areas had positive impacts on students’ achievement in math; those outside these large urban areas had negative impacts on achievement.

*Charter schools in the study did not significantly affect most of the other outcomes examined, including attendance, student behavior, and survey-based measures of student effort in school.

*These charter schools did positively affect levels of satisfaction with school among both students and their parents.

The study on school financing was conducted by Gary Miron and Jessica L. Urschel of Western Michigan University, looked at revenues and expenditures of 1,675 charter schools in 22 states in 2006-07, the latest available data.

Its conclusions include:
*Public charter schools receive less revenue per pupil than traditional public schools: $9,883 to $12,863. But the comparison may be misleading, it says, because states differ dramatically in the way public schools receive funds, and private revenue given to charter schools is largely absent from the national data.

*Traditional public school districts spent $10,581 per student on average, while charter schools as a group spent $8,567 on average.

*In most states, charter school districts reported spending less money per pupil than traditional public schools on instruction, student support services and teacher salaries. But charter schools report paying more for administration, both as a percentage of overall spending as well as for the salaries they pay administrative personnel.

*Nationally, traditional public school districts spent 3.8 percent of total current expenditures on salaries for special education teachers; all charter schools spent 2.2 percent. Nationally, traditional public schools spent 18.6 percent on average of total current expenditures on employee benefits, compared to 9.9 percent for all charter schools on average.

The report, entitled “Equal or Fair? A Study of Revenues and Expenditures in American Charter Schools,” was published jointly 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.


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By Valerie Strauss  | June 29, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Charter schools, Research  | Tags:  charter school financing, charter school movement, charter schools, mathematica research, research on charter schools, student achievement and charter schools  
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Some interesting findings in this study. Did it fully explain why charters appear to receive less public funds?

The other big news is that charters appear more effective for lower rather than higher SES students. Hopefully this will mean that districts will focus on those charters that are effective and expand those programs, then close those that are not.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | June 29, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I read the abstract of the study at the Education and the Public Interest Center. It basically states that charters receive less funding due to fewer obligations regarding students with special needs, transportation and support services. The assertion is that funding isn't equal but it may still be reasonable and fair given the wider programs and services that traditional public schools provide.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | June 29, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

"But charter schools report paying more for administration, both as a percentage of overall spending as well as for the salaries they pay administrative personnel."

Of course, they are business so those in charge of the business are able to take a larger portion of the money for themselves.

Posted by: aby1 | June 29, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse


The study doesn't explain WHY adminstrative costs are higher at charters. It's a pretty important part of the financial picture.
I know in Philly, we've had out and out fraud and embezzlement at a couple of charters.

It should be a cautionary note that this large-scale study found both admin salaries and percentage of spending to be higher at charters. At the same time, spending for instruction and teacher salaries and benefits was lower than at regular public schools. I can easily understand benefits being less, but salary should be the similar to their public school peers. Perhaps there are other differences that explain salary discrepancies.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | June 29, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how much parental contributions of time may also influence outcomes. Hands down charters in urban schools require a lot more parental involvement than public schools. This can really add up over time.

Posted by: Brooklander | June 29, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Would you please start putting a date on your posts?

Posted by: dorainseattle | July 3, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

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