Charter schools receive 29 percent less funding per student, on average, than do traditional public schools, a report from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas' Department of Education Reform finds.
Funded by the Walton Family Foundation, which in 2016 pledged to invest $1 billion in charter schools, the report, Charter School Funding: Inequity in the City (42 pages, PDF), found that in fourteen metropolitan areas, charter schools received, on average, $5,721 less per student in fiscal year 2014 than did traditional public schools, while in Shelby County, Tennessee, which includes Memphis, charter schools received 9 percent more, thanks to philanthropic support. Funding disparities in other areas ranged from 2 percent in Houston to 45 percent in Camden, New Jersey. In only two cities, the report notes, could the funding gap be explained by the higher number of special-needs students in district schools.
According to the report, a dearth of local public funding is the greatest factor behind the funding inequities, as eight of the cities in the study provided no funds to local charter schools. And while more state funding per student was allocated to charter schools in half the cities and to traditional public schools in the other half, more federal funding was directed to charter schools only in Shelby County and Houston. The study also found that private sources of funding varied dramatically, from 59 percent more per student in district schools in New York City to 668 percent and 697 percent more for charter schools in Shelby County and Washington, D.C.
"We find that twelve out of fourteen metropolitan areas in our study receive a C or lower grade for charter school funding equity," the report concludes. "Houston, Texas, demonstrates the greatest revenue balance between charters and traditional public schools, as charters on average receive 98 percent of the per-pupil funding average of TPS."