by Max Brantley
The long and the short of it is simple. In a charter, the state funds all of the money, from the first dollar. In a regular public school, the uniform rate of tax, 25 mills, pays some of that foundation funding. In a district with a high tax base like Little Rock, the local revenue raised pays quite a lot of the cost of a regular public school student, so the state aid is diminished. Once that student goes to a charter, the state funds all of the foundation funding amount, from the first dollar.Yes, a precise calculation would be interesting. In 2012-13, there were roughly 5,000 children enrolled in charter schools in Pulaski County. The current state foundation aid of $6,393 per student puts about $32.4 million in foundation aid into the charter schools. By my rough figures, Little Rock property taxes contribute about $3,700 per student to the 25 mill local tax requirement that offsets state spending. There are differences in taxes among the three school districts and residency would have some impact. But Kurrus estimates the state subsidy to charter schools in Pulaski County at more than $10 million a year, and that might be conservative. It would be $18 million at $3,700 for each of 5,000 students if my rough estimates are correct. That is, local property taxes would cover that part of the state's bill in the three conventional schools districts. The state pays the whole tab in the charters.
… It is complicated because the loss of a student to a charter slightly raises the per pupil revenue available to offset the state portion of foundation funding. Maybe one of the gurus at the U of A's charter group, or Scott Smith, could take this on and let the good folks out in the state know that they are subsidizing Pulaski County's charter efforts. As the deseg money goes away, this subsidy will continue to increase.
Just another reason why this charter movement is a largely a fraud. It is not a way to bring innovation to regular schools, or a way to find the best practices to educate the kids who are not now succeeding. It is a way to allow middle class folks who used to go to magnets to have their own sanctuary schools, paid for in large part by the kind folks out in the state who haven't figured it out yet.
The foundation funding amount in Little Rock School district is comprised of TWO components – money raised from local property taxes and money provided by the state.
** The local revenue per kid is based on the TOTAL LOCAL TAX REVENUE divided by the number of STUDENTS
** The state money per kid is simply the DIFFERENCE between the state guaranteed FOUNDATION (@$6400 now) and the LOCAL REV per kid
When kids leave Little Rock for a charter, the STATE SAVES money in TWO ways –
(1) the state no longer pays the state money per kid to Little Rock for these particular kids AND, more importantly,
(2) the state sends lesser subsidy to Little Rock for ALL the remaining kids because the LOCAL REV per kid actually increases when the enrollment decreases (the SAME total tax revenue divided by FEWER kids results in more LOCAL money per kid)
When kids leave Little Rock for a charter, the STATE LOSES money in ONE way –
(1) the state now must pay the full foundation amount per kid to the charter school for these particular kids.
MATHEMATICALLY, the savings and the losses perfectly balance out.
If charter schools under Arkansas's funding mechanism don't, over the long run, directly cost the state any more money on a per pupil basis, they sure do cost us more in other ways. Gary correctly points out that the tax burden shifts around some, but the long and the short of it is that we have an elaborate voucher system, which allows a student to go to a charter and the money follows the student, albeit in a roundabout way.
The high end charters, with low ESL [English as second language students], low free lunch, etc., are the opposite of what charters are supposed to be. Instead of bringing new ideas, fresh approaches, and innovation for students who otherwise would be unsuccessful, these schools take kids who are easier to educate and who are successful in regular schools, and the state pays extra money to educate them.
Some few charter schools are different. We know that there are some that work well, especially in areas with no regular schools that are adequate.
At a time when we are trying to reduce the number of inefficient districts, we are forming new districts with large overheads, lots of support staff, lots of cronyism, and a very high cost per pupil when student need is assessed. I haven’t looked this up lately, but eSTEM, LISA and Academics Plus would probably each be bigger than half of the districts in the state.