North Carolina's charter schools averaged $1,722 per pupil less than the state's traditional public schools in 2011, according to a new report from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform.
"Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands" follows up on similar national studies done by other groups, comparing funding in 2003 and 2007. The latest study is part of the university's School Choice Demonstration Project and is funded by the Walton Family Foundation.
"Since public charter schools are becoming increasingly politically popular and therefore common in the U.S., we might expect that they would be funded at levels comparable to traditional public schools. After all, they are public schools, too," the authors write. "We would be mistaken."
The researchers found a national gap of 28.4 percent, with charters averaging $3,814 less per pupil from combined state, local, federal and private money. In North Carolina the gap was 17.2 percent, or $8,277 per charter student compared with $9,999 per district student.
As charter advocate Larry Bumgarner and I have been discussing in recent comments, per-pupil funding is a complex and confusing system. The university's report on North Carolina provides a detailed explanation of state funding formulas. "In practice charter school State revenues are nearing parity with district per pupil State revenues, which is significant," the report notes.
The N.C. breakdown cites causes of the funding gap, including the absence of local money for charter school buildings and a lower level of federal funding for charters. (Note that this study landed during the recession, when federal stimulus money was coming in to local districts. It also came before North Carolina's charter school expansion, which might or might not affect per-pupil spending.)
The study does a breakout on Wake County charters and district schools, but there's nothing on Mecklenburg, which has the largest charter school enrollment. I was interested to see that statewide, charter schools served a slightly higher percentage of low-income and special-education students than district schools. As the report notes, that can vary widely by school.
The report gives North and South Carolina D grades for charter/district discrepancies. Tennessee, where charter schools averaged $15 per pupil more than district schools, got the only A.
Also on charters and district schools: I'm moving toward getting payroll data from area charters, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and nearby districts. Expect more on that after the Observer/PNC forum on teacher compensation, which takes place Monday evening. Seats are still available; click here for details and to reserve a seat.