Peter Jones, a professor from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, discussed charter schools at Samford University on Sept. 20.
According to Jones, the charter school debate centers around performance, but often ignores these schools’ financial impact on public schools.
“Every time we talk about this it’s all about efficacy or whether they are better. We should be talking about whether they are more cost effective and efficient,” he said.
Charter schools are considered public schools and depend on public funding. Anyone can enroll but students go through an application process. Charter schools provide more school options but also divide funding.
As charter schools increase, many public schools must now compete for the same funding. As more students leave public schools, Jones said the funding follows.
“If a student transfers from a public school to a charter school, the funding that would have gone for that student has to follow that student,” he said. “If a substantial amount of students shift from public to charter schools, you’re not able to spread cost over as many students.”
Collectively, charter schools have doubled public schools’ expenses. For every dollar public schools lose, their expenses increase by $2.20.
“As more students go to charter schools, we’re seeing a pretty substantial increase. Traditional public schools spend about a $ 1,000 more per student,” Jones said.
These expenses have strained public schools and many struggle with debt. For example, Jones said a Pittsburgh’s school district deficit skyrocketed $3 million after students left.
Other public schools cannot even pay their debt. According to Jones, the credit rating agency, Moody’s, fears that some school district’s credit ratings could plummet because they have so much debt.
In response, public schools spend less, but it is not enough. For every dollar of revenue public schools lose, they may only decrease their expenses by 50 cents.
“They’re still in a fiscal crisis. Public schools can’t shift around money all that easily,” he said. “If a public school’s enrollment decreases, they can’t just fire a teacher or shutdown part of the school.”
Some school districts have barred charter schools from entering their area, and therefore preventing charter schools from siphoning funds. Rather than avoiding competition, Jones said public schools should improve and devote more funding to students’ education.
“School districts can respond by moving money … into the classroom and creating a better … school so students will want to stay,” he said.
Jones said public schools should adapt and prioritize their students educational needs as much as safety or attendance.
“School districts should be more flexible in responding to these types of things because they have to respond to other things like tornadoes and school truancy issues,” he said.
William Marlow, News Editor