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.