- Per-pupil spending in traditional district schools in California declines when students leave for charter schools, but not as much as in other states, according to a new paper from Paul Bruno of the University of Southern California.
- The modest declines — about 1.4% — are seen in day-to-day operational costs, such as salaries for teachers and administrators, and districts experience “financial strain” in the form of lower fund balances and reserves. But Bruno’s analysis, using California Department of Education data, also shows an increase in spending on special instructional programs in high schools and higher spending on fixed costs, such as debt service and benefits for retirees.
- Published by Policy Analysis for California Education, a think tank, the paper attributes the limited impact on district finances to how the state’s “policy context shields districts to a large degree from fiscal strain.” These policies include state aid for districts when local revenues fall and that charter schools often pay oversight fees to the districts that authorized them.
The paper comes as the California Teachers Association is pushing for state lawmakers to approve a package of bills that would set limits on the growth of charter schools in the state, which was the second after Minnesota to pass a charter school law. More than 8% of the state’s students attend charter schools, which is higher than the national average of about 5%. Opposition to the growth of the charter sector was also a major message in both the Los Angeles and Oakland teachers’ strikes.
Meanwhile, charter school leaders and supporters say they are feeling increased hostility toward their schools, which receive public as well as private donations, and are freed from many of the staffing and curriculum regulations that apply to traditional schools.
As more researchers seek to compare the two sectors, Bruno’s paper recommends that other states “consider borrowing elements of California’s school funding policies apparatus” and that “conclusions about the fiscal impacts of charter schools on [traditional public schools] should be generalized only with caution.”