Charters vs. district schools: Which are better off? Neither, study says
- A newly released report commissioned by the Oakland Achieves Partnership and conducted by Education Resource Strategies looks at two types of public schools in Oakland, district-run and charter, and how each of them are serving students. The report analyzes 32 charter schools and every school run by the Oakland Unified School District, focusing on three areas: student need, resource levels, and resource use.
- The report found that overall, students in the traditional district schools had greater needs than those in charter school systems, as district schools serve a greater percentage of students with special needs, academic needs, and "late-entry" accommodation. District institutions also have a greater percentage of homeless and foster students on average than charter schools.
- The study did show that OUSD school systems spent $2,800 more per pupil on operating expenses on average than their charter counterparts, reports The Los Angeles Times. When adjusted for the differences in student needs, it translated to a $1,400 difference per students. The conclusions of the study show gaps in spending may exist in order for district schools to meet operating expenses and the resource costs of higher needs. But at the same time, charter school per pupil spending is capped by The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which controls how much funding charters can receive and could prevent their ability to enroll more higher need students.
The debate over whether charter schools or traditional district-run public schools fare better in terms of funding and resources is still largely unresolved. Charter schools are exempted from some of the same rules that restrict traditional government-run institutions, and thus get more leniency in terms of how they direct their funding. Advocates of charter schools, however, point out that these school systems tend to receive less funding overall, and higher achieving students are often drawn to these schools.
The study found that even though districts were spending 18% more per teacher on compensation, charter schools still had 14% more contractually required teacher time per day on average. And overall, charters maintained a higher student:teacher ratio at 19:1, while the district ratio was 18:1.
As charter enrollment increases, critics of school choice efforts, including charter school expansion, say the approach will create a new level of stratification where all of the best students will leave district schools for charters, leaving district-run public schools with greater numbers of high-need students which would require more spending.
To tackle these gaps in funding and special needs attention between charters and traditional public schools, the report concludes that there needs to be a shift in thinking about revenue policies generally. The authors write that the district needs to develop a more nuanced assessment of student need at each type of institution, in order to determine proper resource allocation. Further, they write that the state legislature ought to readdress the LCFF cap, while exploring opportunities for optimizing special education within the city. This could mean adding incentivizes in the funding system to encourage charters to enroll more higher needs students.
- Los Angeles Times Do charters or traditional schools have it worse? A new study says both
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