study says...

Report: Most city charter schools receive more per-pupil funds

Reversing its earlier findings, the city’s Independent Budget Office has concluded in a new study that most New York City charter schools receive more funding per student than their district school peers.

A year ago, an IBO study found that charter schools housed in public school buildings received $305 less per student than district schools for the 2008-09 school year. Now, the office has revised its methodology and has reached a very different conclusion.

In 2008-09, charter schools in district space were given $701 more per student than traditional public schools, the new study finds. For the 2009-10 school year, that disparity shrunk to $649.

Where the two studies do agree is on the question of funding for charter schools that are housed in private space. Roughly a third of New York City’s 98 charter schools fall into this category, and both studies found that they receive significantly less funding per student than district schools and charter schools in district space. The most recent report states:

The reason we calculate a higher funding allocation for charters housed in public school buildings than charters in private space is the value of in-kind services they receive due to their location: charter schools co-located in public school buildings don’t have to budget for space costs and utilities, janitorial services, or school safety agents.

The IBO’s report did not examine the amount that charter schools raise through private philanthropy each year.

Looking ahead, the study’s authors suggest that the per-pupil funding gap between district schools and charters in district space is likely to widen as a result of the state legislature ending the charter school funding freeze. They write:

When complete data from 2010–2011 become available, they are almost certain to show an even greater advantage for those charters housed within public school buildings compared with traditional public schools.

In its explanation of its new methodology, the IBO states that unlike its last report, the new study does not include spending on transportation for special education students. It also doesn’t include the pension costs of special education teachers at district schools and it uses a new estimate for the cost of fringe benefits.

Department of Education officials have not commented on the report’s findings yet (I’ll post when they do), but a spokesman for the IBO, Doug Turetsky, said that DOE officials had asked the IBO to take down the report because they hadn’t had time to review it.

“We have no intention of pulling it down,” Turetsky said, adding that the IBO sent the study to the DOE last Thursday and received a response yesterday.

In her testimony before the legislature in Albany today, Chancellor Cathie Black seemed to agree with the report’s main conclusion that charter schools in district space receive more funding than district schools.

“It is not our goal to have more money on a continuing basis go to charter schools over district schools,” she told the elected officials. “There are ups and downs in the funding. This year it is true that there is a higher per student payment, but it will equal out.”

Chief Executive Officer of the New York City Charter School Center James Merriman said that he wished the IBO had incorporated former Chancellor Joel Klein’s recommendations for changes to its methodology that Klein suggested last year.

“My sense is taking into account the chancellor’s refinements to their mythology, the numbers come out more or less equal,” he said, suggesting that the disparity between district schools and charters in district space might be much smaller or even nonexistent.

The report “simply confirms what we’ve known all along, which is funding taken as a whole for the charter sector is less than funding for districts schools taken as a whole,” Merriman said.

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”