Want to Pass A Local School Tax Increase? Open Charters

Here’s a neat piece of research posted at Heny Levin’s National Center for the Study of Privatization in EducationThe study is actually by Arnold Shober and it examines whether the presence of charter schools in a district affects the likelihood that voters will support a local school tax increase. 

It has been getting more and more difficult to obtain local support for school tax increases.  But, Shober wonders, might it be easier to pass a school tax referenda in communities that have more options paid by tax dollars?  Maybe people more satisfied with the quality and diversity of publicly-financed schools, including charter options, are more willing to provide extra tax dollars for all schools.

As it turns out, Shober finds that they do.  He analyzed data from 1,111 school tax referenda in Wisconsin between 1998 and 2005.  He concludes:

“Adding one charter school to the district that has none increases the likelihood of passage 4.1 percent; increasing the number of charter schools from 0 to 8 (the maximum for these data) increases the likelihood of passage 30.2 percent second only to the effect of a college-educated electorate (below). This suggests that charter schools do have some bearing on how votes perceive a school district’s responsiveness to active-parent demands. Indeed, authorizing charter schools is the only variable in this analysis that a school district’s administration could directly manipulate (save the actual ballot request).”

It seems that restricting families’ options and forcing them to attend dirstrict schools whether those schools serve their kids well or not is not the best strategy to get those same families to cough up more dough for the public school system.  People are more likely to be supportive of a public school system that helps them find schools that work for their kids — even if those schools are charters.

2 Responses to Want to Pass A Local School Tax Increase? Open Charters

  1. Collin Hitt says:

    Let me first say that this is a fascinating story. Now…

    Couldn’t this be spun by charter opponents to say that charter schools “have forced local voters to increase property taxes”?* Charter opponents already claim that charter schools sap resources from area public schools. Now they can tell communities (in Wisconsin, where the study was done) that they’re more likely to see a property tax increase as a result of a charter school opening in the area.

    Also, this might not be welcome news for many school choice supporters – many of whom are also tax hawks.

    * – I don’t think this study provides anything more than cold comfort to the charter skeptics/opponents who constantly advocate for more school spending. It’s my impression that, on balance, the “more money for schools” lobby is more viscerally opposed to charters than they are supportive of ballot referenda – after all, their principal policy objective is to get state governments to centralize education funding, which they believe will result in a more consistent, heavier stream of taxpayer funds. I think many charter opponents would gladly throw the referendum process under the bus if it gave them another anti-charter talking point.

  2. I don’t think anybody could spin the study in the way you describe. It looked at whether bonds were more likely to pass in areas with more charters, not at whether bonds were more likely to be placed on the ballot in areas with more charters.

    But I do agree that this study may not soften hardcore charter opponents.

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