Friday, September 11, 2009

New federal study – Charter schools are cheaper


I just learned to my surprise that across the country there are now 1,673 school districts where EVERY school is a charter school. That compares to 13,560 other school districts nationwide where only some, or none, of the schools are charters (Officially, Kentucky has no charter schools although we think that the Model Laboratory Schools at EKY and the Gatton School at WKU operate like charters).

Now, a brand new federal report takes a look at how the funding in these charter-school-only districts compares to the funding for the regular districts. Some of the findings are remarkable.

We hear a lot of complaining from Kentucky’s education crowd about supposedly low school funding. However, the new report shows the median district per pupil revenue in Kentucky in 2006-07 was $9,491 while nationwide the charter school districts only got $8,677 and nationwide the regular school district median was $10,754.

Suddenly, this new fiscal data casts the performance of charter schools in a very different perspective.

A couple of things are certain. First, there are school districts in other states today where every school is a charter school. That could be an answer to one excuse in Kentucky for not adopting charter schools due to the notable number of small, rural districts here. OK – go charter district wide to get out from under the onerous regulations that stifle the creativity and advantages of charters.

Second, charter-only districts operate at significantly lower cost than regular school districts do.

That could lead to another interesting possibility. We have heard that overall charter schools across the nation perform about the same on average as regular public schools (We note that there are exceptions in some states where charters do outperform regular schools).

However, even if charters across the nation only match regular public school performance, the new fiscal data could imply that the charter school districts are managing generally equivalent performance using about 20 percent less money than the regular schools receive (assuming the performance of schools in the all charter districts is similar to the performance of charter schools overall). That would be a huge savings. It will be interesting to see if separate charter district scoring data becomes available (If you have seen anything on that, please let us know).

Anyway, the new report certainly adds some serious evidence to often stated comments that charter schools are cheaper. If we are talking about district-wide charter models, they definitely are.

Stay tuned for more from this new federal report.

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