“That’s Not How This Works!”- Correcting the Rhetoric Around Public Charter Schools
April 8, 2015
This funny ad makes light of how earnestly people can go in the direction of a misunderstanding. But when “policy experts” purposely mislead the public into misunderstandings about education and school funding, it isn’t funny. It’s appalling.
For example, charter school detractors promote the idea that charter schools exist to privatize education and make profits for greedy investors:
“[Mayor Emanuel] took money from these schools . . . and gave it to elite private schools founded by his big campaign contributors. I would stop privatizing our public schools.“– Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Chicago Mayor Election Video.
Actually, public charter schools are part of the public education system. They are approved and monitored by public entities. Nearly 90 percent are run by a non-profit organization. These non-profits are very much like other publicly-funded programs that serve children, such as Head Start centers.
Most egregious of the claims, however, is when detractors pit families against families with claims about unfair funding:
- “The way [Ohio’s political leaders have chosen] to fund charters has had a profoundly negative impact on the resources that remain for the 1.6 million kids [who remain] in Ohio’s traditional public schools” – Innovation Ohio report.
- “Ohio Cheats 92% of Kids to Offer Choice” – Diane Ravitch blog.
- “Ohio’s funding model has put our traditional public school students and teachers at a major disadvantage…and when charter schools siphon funds from public schools, our students have even fewer resources”- Ohio State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) press release.
But these arguments don’t hold water because the funding associated with a particular student will follow him or her if he or she chooses to transfer from a traditional public school to a public charter school. In Ohio, the state where I live, and where many of these claims are made, this “pass-through” or transfer happens at the district level. That means that state funds provided to a district to educate a child will transfer to the school the child actually attends.
Here’s how it works:
Conclusion: There is no loss in funding for district students. District students have the same amount of per-pupil funding before and after the transfer. If anything, district students actually get $3,500 more in per-pupil funding than charter students because they often get funds beyond the transfer process.
How funds are transferred for charter schools is no different from how funds are transferred when parents decide to move to another district because they want better schools for their children.
But the difference – and benefit – with charters is that:
- Parents who can’t afford to move get to have choices as do parents who can afford to move, and
- Instead of moving and taking the local taxes they pay with them, some parents who can afford to move may choose to stay because they now have additional public school choices. This means they continue to contribute to local revenues in a way that supports public schools and other community services.
People that hold public positions of professional trust – such as school treasurers and superintendents, school board members, elected officials – have an ethical responsibility not to mislead the public. Yet, too often, the media – perhaps because conflict sells or perhaps because they don’t understand the school funding process – provides a platform that perpetuates misinformation.
So the next time you hear the rhetoric about how charter schools “take district funds,” please remember – That’s Not How This Works! That’s Not How ANY of this Works!
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