How to prevent charter schools from draining away public school funding in your community

By Brian Washington

A new study suggests how local school districts can keep the unchecked growth of charter schools from draining money away from traditional public schools and the students who attend them.

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In the Public Interest, a research nonprofit dedicated to promoting the common good and democratic control of public goods and services, released the study and calls the analysis a “first of its kind.”

The report, entitled Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts, focuses on three California school districts: the Oakland Unified School District, the San Diego Unified School District, and the Santa Clara County East Side Union High School District.

All three faced huge multi-million dollar budget shortfalls attributed to charter school growth and had to implement budget cuts that resulted in increased class sizes and significant losses in core services like counseling, libraries, and special education. 

In Oakland and San Diego, the budget deficits totaled $57 million and $66 million respectively.

The California Charter School Act currently doesn’t allow school boards to consider how a proposed charter school may impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health when weighing new charter applications,” reads the report. “However, when a student leaves a neighborhood school for a charter school, their pro-rated share of funding leaves with them, while the district remains responsible for many costs that those funds had supported.

In California, nearly 1,300 schools identify as charter schools, the largest charter school sector in the nation. These schools serve more than 620,000 students, which is about 10 percent of the state’s total student body.

Click here to view the report.

“It has been long recognized that the growth of charter schools creates costs for local school districts, but there is no established mechanism for measuring these costs, or accounting for them in policy decisions,” read the report.

School officials within the state say these conditions have caused dire fiscal problems within the state—resulting in massive shortfalls and drastic public education cuts. However, researchers believe their study points to solutions to prevent this situation from extending into the future. 

The report makes the following recommendations to allow public officials to plan for community education needs in a rational manner:

“First each school school district should produce an annual Economic Impact report assessing the cost of charter expansion in its community and more targeted analyses should be a required component in the evaluation of new charter applications,” reads the report.

“Secondly, public officials at both local and state levels must be able to take these findings into account when deciding whether to authorize additional charter schools. Thus the state’s charter authorization law must be amended to empower elected officials to act as effective stewards of the community’s education budget in balancing the potential value of charter schools against the need of traditional public school students.”

Researchers say they hope their analysis provides a model to allow districts across the nation to put a real and true cost in relation to charter schools in their communities. 

15 responses to “How to prevent charter schools from draining away public school funding in your community

  1. FOUNTAIN HILLS CHARTER SCHOOL . Fountain hills,AZ told my wife and I that they do not provide special education to students because they can’t afford it. But just now when I pulled up the schools annual budget report for 2019 it showed they were not only reporting $63k but wanted an increase of $5k. Is that not illegal to report for money of a program they don’t offer ? What should I do ? Please help . That’s a small fraction of issues with the school

  2. Ms McFadden: with all due respect, your comments are completely false. You may want to do a bit more research and do not rely on other people’s account of charters. I developed and now operate a charter and:
    1. We do have to have licensed educators
    2. We have to abide by all policies required by the state
    3. We must take ANY student that enrolls, even ones with IEPs
    4. We must take state assessments to receive a school grade
    Your 4 claims are not correct. Please take some time to research as you false claims hurt our programs.

    Mr. Ziolkowski: charters ARE public entities, they are NOT private.

  3. I went to a charter school foe 7 years, and received a much better education than any public schools. while I was at a public school I did poorly, as soon as I transferred my grades sky rocketed. If i continued at a public school, Probably would have dropped out once I had reached high school.

  4. Charter schools are necessary to bring competition in the marketplace. Their Independence should not be trifled with, and if it comes down to public schools vs charter schools, the solution is more freedom to the public schools in management rather than taking away freedom from charter schools. Being schooled in a bad public school myself, I know how difficult it is.

  5. I have worked in Public, Private, and Charter schools. I have found there are a percentage of educators in each that do what’s right for the student no matter what, because it is the heart and passion of the true teacher. Believe it or not in each place there are the bottom line thinkers and for them it is only about the money and these fall in every category of the system. It is so easy to sit and say who should get what money but if truth be told the public school over all( not everyone) Is not giving every kid a fair and equal education. Which is why private and charters have popped up. And the inequalities are more prevalent in lower socioeconomic areas because these public schools most of the time have limited sources compared to higher socioeconomic areas. If the state of California is so concerned give every child the same everything no matter what neighborhood the school is located. Until the problem is addressed with our current system ( instead of spend time and money ) trying to stop others, fix the problem in our public schools then parents would not look to move their children.

  6. I believe that an important consideration in this conversation is that public schools are mandated to do many things that are not necessarily in the best interest of the students that we serve. Instead of pitting schools against each other (and I have many reservations about the charter schools as they presently exist so please do not misunderstand me!), the question that needs to be at the center of every conversation – the only real question we should entertain – is what is best for the students? If we come from this approach, it becomes clear that standardized tests are not best for the students. We need another method of assessing school success. Tying teacher advancement to test scores is not in the best interest of students. We need another way to assess teacher advancement. Enforcing the “letter of the law” rather than the “spirit of the law” in SPED is not in the best interest of the students. We need another way to ensure that all students receive a best education….I could go on and on…rather than saying that charters need to comply with the practices that weigh us down in the public schools, let’s throw some of the dead weight overboard and become totally student centered – from the federal mandates right down to each teacher’s practice. Let’s return to what our hearts know to be true…what is best for the students? If we take a public and potentially difficult stand for the students, things will begin to sort themselves out in the right way. More than ever, this country needs an educated populace capable of free and creative thought!

  7. Until charter schools have over site I don’t think they should be allowed to get state money. They should have the same accountability that public schools have. The public schools have to take their students for sports, and for special education. They can’t have it both ways.

  8. Charters should be forced to return the tax money for students who drop out or are forced out, within a month of the students’ leaving.




    1. It’s ignorance the Charters leave behind…

      Parents and parents are running , full speed away
      …from folks like you…!

  10. I find it disturbing that charter schools do not report to the States’ Boards of Education, even though they rely on public taxes for support. This seems illegal in the eyes of taxpayers, since they are having to fund schools-for-profit in the private sector. Their standards do not follow state curricula, they do not take state/federal, or national tests to evaluate their effect on education. They do not take students with any disabilities. Their teachers do not have to possess any kind of degree. It is appalling that they are allowed to remain private (though they claim to be public institutions) while siphoning moneys from our public schools. I cannot believe that our government has allowed this to happen. We don’t give moneys to private church schools, so why is this allowed??? If parents want their children to attend private schools (when public schools are available), then let them pay the bill.

    1. You are wrong about Charters not taking IEP. My son attended a charter in the summer for Health and he has an IEP. The public school in the fall he attended wanted $500 for the same class he Received for free with the Charter.

  11. These schools need better monitoring than they now have. There appears to be some who are very poorly run.

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