Charter School Cheap Shot

chrtrschlsA piece that appeared in the December 16, 2014 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer entitled “Do charters take money from Cincinnati Public kids?” was, although technically correct, grossly misleading regarding charter school funding in Ohio.

The article states Ohio has authorized $3,600 in state taxpayer for each student who lives in the Cincinnati Public district. The article continues to note that if a student attends a charter school instead of Cincinnati Public School, Cincinnati Public must transfer $5,800 to the charter school in which the Cincinnati Public school student has chosen to attend.

Although these numbers are correct, it is incredibly misleading as it does not note the various other types of revenue that are available to traditional public school districts. Revenue in which charter schools do not have access. Without knowing the additional revenue streams available to traditional public school districts, a glance at these numbers implies Cincinnati Public is losing over $2,000 per student every time a student chooses to attend a charter school. That is simply not the case.

First, it should be noted that charter schools are public schools per Ohio law. However, regarding funding, the article does not clearly define the other sources of revenue traditional public schools receive. Cincinnati Public receives funding from local property taxes whereas charters do not. In addition, traditional public schools have access to facility funding from the state of Ohio.

Charter schools only receive $5,800 per student. With that funding they must not only pay for operational costs, but pay for facilities as well. Charter schools are not-for-profits per Ohio law, and can raise funds on their own, but with the exception of a handful of charters in the state, this makes little impact on per pupil funding.

A measure that is overlooked by the Enquirer is per pupil spending. According to State Impact, a project of NPR, Cincinnati Public spends $6,945 per pupil solely on instruction and over $14,000 per student total (2010-2011 school year). Thus, the implication that Cincinnati Public’s sole revenue is the $3,600 in per pupil funding from the state, and they are losing over $2,000 per student each time a student leaves to attend a charter is exceedingly misleading.

The Enquirer article notes a report from an uber-liberal think tank that claims the transfer of monies from traditional public schools to charter schools puts a strain on traditional public schools to educate children who remain in the district. This argument has been used since charter schools began operating over a decade ago in Ohio and it is, quite frankly, bunk. Why should a traditional district continue to receive funding for a child, when that child has made the choice to attend a charter school? In addition, the Enquirer article continues to quote an Ohio Department of Education official who states studies have found zero correlation between the amount of money a district receives and the academic performance of students within said district.

Thus, the argument that traditional public schools would be soaring to great academic heights if they only did not have to transfer funds to charter schools is completely flawed. Charters did not exist twenty years ago. Thus, what was traditional public schools excuse for poor academic performance twenty years ago, prior to the opening of charters?

Finally, the Enquirer article takes a cheap shot at charters claiming “many have closed after financial problems or poor academic marks” and “the links between some charter schools and powerful, GOP leaning donors have increased the controversy surrounding the schools.”

There have been many charters throughout the state that have closed due to finances or academics. That is a positive. The purpose of charter schools is simple. Charters provide alternatives to families in districts that have a history of poor academics. A “charter” is a contract with the state (via the charter school sponsor). If the charter does not live up to its stated objectives in the charter, it is to be closed. How many academic and financial scandals have occurred in traditional public schools? What is the difference when a pattern of failure occurs in a charter school or a traditional public district? The difference is that a charter can be closed, whereas, public districts continue to operate.

Regarding GOP leaning donors, it is true that most supporters of charter schools and school choice give to Republican candidates, as Republicans are generally more pro-school choice than liberals. However, the Enquirer article fails to note that teacher unions (who oppose school choice) overwhelming provide incredibly large sums of monies to Democratic candidates each election cycle.

Students should have the choice to choose where they want to attend school and not be forced to attend a failing traditional public school simply because they live inside some arbitrary line devised by bureaucrats in state agencies. School choice empowers students and families, not teacher unions. Empowering students and families should be encouraged, not discouraged, in K-12.

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