My Apple is Bigger

(Guest post by Patrick J. Wolf)

New York City public charters have been much in the news of late (see here & here) for hitting it out of Yankee Stadium on student achievement.  When Judge-ing (sorry, couldn’t resist) The Big Apple’s charter school sector, add this little fact to the case:  charters out-slug their peers at a lower cost.

That is the conclusion of my latest study of charter school funding inequity, co-authored with Larry D. Maloney.  It is fun to study New York City, in part because of great potential for wordplay but also because the place is so darn big that you can disaggregate results by borough and still have district v. charter comparisons informed by large samples.  So, “start spreading the news…”

There are over 1,000,000 public school children in The Big Apple.  Seven percent of them attended charter schools during Fiscal Year 2014, the focus of our study.  Cash revenue to charter schools averaged $15,983 per-pupil while payments to district-run schools averaged a much more generous $26,560 per-pupil.  “You just wait a New York Minute Mr. Henley,” you might caution, “The New York City Department of Education actually provides in-kind services to students in charter schools that represent a funding resource not accounted for in your cash calculations.”  You would be right.  After factoring in the cash value of such in-kind services, charter schools receive a mere $4,888 less in per-pupil funding than district schools (Figure 3).  New York City charters schools are outperforming the City’s district schools at about 81 cents on the dollar.

I’ll admit that my figure isn’t nearly as MoMA-worthy as Matt’s post-modernist depiction of the Arizona school districts that refuse to accept students through inter-district choice, but it makes a crucial point.  Even accounting for the value of everything contributed in support of charter schools in New York City, district schools still get more money per student.

Critics of our prior charter school funding studies (available here and here) have claimed that we are making Big-Apple-to-Big-Orange comparisons, since district schools provide more extensive educational services to students than charters.  Our accounting for in-kind district services to charters fully addresses that argument.  After factoring in the value of co-located facilities, transportation, meals, special education services, health services, textbooks, software, etc., all of which are provided to charters in New York City so that the scope of their services is equal to that of district schools, the charters still receive less funding.  We even examined school spending patterns, in addition to funding patterns, and the story is the same.

Surely the student populations in district schools are needier than those in charter schools, thereby justifying the funding gap, right?  Actually no.  The population of charter school students in New York City contains a higher percentage of free-and-reduced price lunch kids than the population of district school students (Figure 4).

The percentage of students with disabilities is only slightly higher in district schools versus charter schools, 18.2% compared to 15.9%.  That means that districts enroll 21,342 “extra” students with disabilities compared to charters.  For the special education enrollment gap favoring districts to explain the entire funding gap favoring districts, each “extra” student with a disability in the district sector would have to cost an additional $214,376 above the cost of educating a student in general education.  It is simply implausible that the slight gap in special education enrollments explains the substantial gap in funding between district and charter schools in New York City.

Like rookie sensation Aaron Judge, this report has lots of hits besides just the homeruns described above, so check it out.  In sum, New York City has made a major commitment to provide material support to students in its public charter schools.  Still, inexplicable funding inequities persist depending simply on whether a child is in a charter or a district school.  Larry and I think this case study provides yet another Reason to support weighted student funding with full portability (see what I did there?).  Switching to such a simple and equitable method for funding all public school students definitely would put us in a “New York State of Mind.”

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2 Responses to My Apple is Bigger

  1. Matthew Ladner says:

  2. Patrick Wolf says:

    Wow, you got MoMA, apple, and size all in one image. I bow to the master!

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