According to the University of Arkansas 2018 study Charter School Funding: (More) Inequity in the City, public charter schools receive 27 percent less funding nationally than traditional district schools.
The study covered 15 cities across the nation.
“The disparity is often because charter schools have limited access to local revenue. They typically receive a lot less than district schools in local revenue and slightly more in state-level [classroom] funding,” said Juliet Squire, Bellwether Education Partners senior associate partner. However, charter schools do not receive any dedicated state or local support for building or leasing school buildings, districts do.
Bellwether Education Partners is a national nonprofit that works to improve policy and practice to support education organizations.
Great Hearts Academies Arizona president Erik Twist explained that while Arizona charter schools do receive more state funding than district schools, they receive no local funding and ultimately have fewer dollar per student.
Great Hearts Academies is a network of public charter schools in Arizona and Texas that serves students in grades K-12.
“Charters get paid only for having a [student] there between the eleventh day and hundredth day of school. And then, the state looks at that average membership of the school and says, ‘You’ve got this many kids at your school and each one of those kids is worth this amount of money.’ And, that money comes from the state general fund,” Twist explained.
According to the Arizona Legislature’s 2017 overview, district schools receive $9,474 on average per pupil and charter schools receive $8,523. The charter schools are also expected to finance facilities out of the smaller per pupil funding.
“The way that funding works for districts is just so different- it’s not apples to apples,” Twist said.
While the district schools receive less state funding, the local funding- including property tax revenues such as local bonds, overrides and other mechanisms- still puts them ahead of charter schools, he explained.
Experts also say there is a large disparity between district schools and charter schools when it comes to desegregation (deseg) funding and bonds and overrides. While not all districts receive deseg funding, those that do qualify for additional funding ranges anywhere from around $75 to as much as $2,000 per student.
Deseg funding is in place to support core initiatives for students who identify as Latino or African American. Bonds and overrides fund operations and other projects for school districts through voter-approved initiatives that generate additional tax revenue.
Squire explained that some of the charter versus district funding myths may stem from philanthropic support.
“It may be driven by a lot of the attention of philanthropic support that charter schools receive, which is a little bit harder to quantify sometimes because it’s not tracked in the same way that state dollars are,” Squire said.
She added, “But, I don’t think the philanthropic support charter schools receive on average outweighs the disparity in public funding that they receive.”