A new EPI report by Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker, finds that many school districts have lost enrollment and revenue due to charter school expansion, which has increased inequities in the educational experiences for students.
“The expansion of charter schools is exacerbating inequities among children, who are increasingly segregated by economic status, race, language, and disabilities,” said Baker. “A system of unequal choices is still an unequal system.”
In some urban districts, such as Washington D.C., Detroit, and Columbus, charter schools are serving 20 percent or more of the city or districtwide student population. While each city is unique, the districts experienced several of the same trends: In most of the public school districts studied, the non-charter public schools have received fewer resources due to charter school expansion. In those cases, districts have tried to reduce expenditures enough to avoid a budget crisis by taking measures that can hurt student performance including increasing student to teacher ratios. Some districts simultaneously facing rapid student population decline and/or inequitable, under-resourced school finance systems have faced substantial annual deficits.
In his study of 11 city school systems, Baker finds many leading charter operators have been the subject of federal and state investigations and judicial orders over conflicts-of-interest and financial malfeasance. The opaque financial practices of charter operators have led to increased disparities for students, irregularities in the accumulation of public debt, and irregularities in the ownership and distribution of public assets.
Baker recommends communities hold charter operators publicly accountable and consider the cost and benefits to the community and to the greater public good. He also recommends that schools must be centrally managed in order to create meaningful transparency.
The role of charter schools is becoming increasingly important as President-elect Trump has pledged to support the School Choice and Education Opportunity Act, which would redirect education funding toward charter schools. Massachusetts and Georgia also recently voted down referenda to divert education money to charter schools.
“The Baker study shows that the charter schools are not being managed as a system that puts student needs first,” said Lawrence Mishel. “The public education system should not incentivize the benefit of the most able and most resourced students. The system should be designed to benefit the greater public good and educate all students.”