NYC Charter Schools Get 20% Less Funding than Traditional Schools, Study Says

New York City charter schools received nearly 20 percent less funding than their traditional counterparts — about $5,000 per student — with charters located in city school buildings enjoying substantially more financial support than those in stand-alone facilities, an analysis published this week found.

Drawing primarily on 1.4 million city Department of Education financial records and charter budget audits in 2014, University of Arkansas researchers determined that traditional schools averaged $26,169 per student that year, a figure that includes each student’s share of the city’s capital budget. Co-located charter schools received an average of $22,942 and charter schools in private buildings received an average of $18,937; the average for all charters was $21,281.

The figures are a total of federal, state, and local funding, as well as non-public revenues, primarily private donations. The report maintains “that philanthropy and other non-public funding are more prevalent in traditional schools than in charters,” amounting to $841 per pupil in district schools and $349 per student in charters.

The authors of the study, titled, “Charter School Funding: Inequity in New York City,” calculated that district expenditures for items like transportation, maintenance, and food provided a yearly $5,300 per-pupil benefit to charters. Not counting such “in-kind services,” charters received an average of $15,983 in direct funding, according to the report, which follows in a decade-long series of studies about district and charter school funding in New York City and other urban districts by the university’s Model School Demonstration Project, a research center focusing on school choice.

Certain elements of existing policy, such as the Fair Student Funding initiative and the district practice of providing in-kind services to charters appear to be working to reduce funding inequities in New York City,” the report says. “Modest inequities remain, however, that cannot be explained by levels of student disadvantage. The story of charter school funding in New York City is one of less, but persisting, inequity.”

In a response, the DOE said the report failed to account adequately for costly items, like pension payments and debt service, that the district is responsible for and don’t appear as a pass-through to charters in school budgets.

“We invest in all public schools, both district and charter, to ensure they have the necessary funding to provide students with a high-quality education and receive the resources they need to succeed,” said press secretary Toya Holness.

While the authors of the new report were once criticized for failing to exempt district expenditures that weren’t also mandatory for charters, giving the appearance of broader funding disparities between the two school sectors, the new work focuses in part on identifying how many district expenses contribute to charters.

“This is the first time that we actually delved into the expenditure side of the equation as well as the revenue side,” said lead author Larry Maloney, a consultant, in an interview.

“It gave us an opportunity to see what records were available for any in-kind services the district might be providing to the charter school community.  And there was a substantial, in-kind commitment to the charter schools which we did not expect.”

Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation provides funding to the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and to The 74.

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