The Economist - Charter Schools: Learning Moment

IN THE bitter debate about charter schools, one of the myths perpetuated by critics is that charters are generously funded by rich donors. Steve Nelson, head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, mused in a recent op-ed that charter schools “claim to operate with more efficiency, but their budgets are augmented by an infusion of capital from billionaire philanthropists and hedge fund managers who know a lot about PR and very little about education.” Mr Nelson contends that charters are not more efficient with money, as charter proponents say, but just have more of it. 

This is wrong, and badly so. Research has been mounting that shows that charter schools have in fact less money than their public rivals. This financial imbalance is confirmed by a new report from the University of Arkansas, published in the Journal of School Choice. The study looks at the total available revenue for traditional and public charter schools in 30 states and 48 major cities in the 2010-11 school year. In all states, except Tennessee, charter schools receive less money per pupil than traditional public schools. Sometimes this deficit is small. New Mexico charter schools receive only $365 less per pupil. Other times it is enormous. In Washington, DC, charter schools receive $12,736 less per pupil. Across the 48 major urban areas examined (where charter schools are more common), the deficit between public and charter schools was about $4,352 per pupil. The gap is smaller if averaged across all charter schools in the country, at $3,814. Still, this is a funding gap of 28%. 

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