Get Social

Charter School Funding Disparity Exists and, in Some Cases Widens, New Research Finds

April 15, 2013
Forthcoming Paper in the Journal of School Choice Finds Charter School Students Receive One-Third Less PerPupil Funding in Five Key Regions

BENTONVILLE, ARK., April 15, 2013 – Public charter school students receive on average one-third less per-pupil funding than traditional public school students in five major regions, according to research that will be published in the peer-reviewed Journal of School Choice this September. Researchers analyzed total available revenue (from local, state, federal and non-public sources) for both traditional public and public charter schools in the cities of Denver, Milwaukee, Newark, N.J. and Washington, D.C. as well as the Los Angeles Unified School District from 2007 to 2011.

The research paper, titled “Education’s Fiscal Cliff: Real or Perceived?” will be released by the University of Arkansas and is being commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation. Lead researchers Larry Maloney, Meagan Batdorff, Michelle Terrell and Jay May analyzed these five regions and found that traditional public schools received an average of $4,000 more per student in 2011 than their peers in public charter schools. The gap varies from around $2,700 in Denver to nearly $13,000 in Washington, D.C. in 2011, the most recent year evaluated.

“In the large, urban school districts evaluated, traditional public schools receive substantially more local, state and federal funds than public charter schools,” said lead researcher Larry Maloney. “While the gap is actually narrowing in regions like Newark and Washington, D.C., there is still a major discrepancy of resources between traditional public and public charter school students.”

According to the research paper, between 2007 and 2011, the funding gap between traditional public and public charter schools increased in Denver, Los Angeles Unified School District and Milwaukee. The gap narrowed in Newark and Washington, D.C.

Between 2007 and 2011, the trends in per pupil funding gaps varied by region:

  • Denver - Per pupil funding for traditional public schools in Denver grew by 27.2 percent to $13,823, while public charter school per pupil funding increased by 14.2 percent to $11,139.
  • Los Angeles - Traditional public school per pupil funding in Los Angeles Unified School District declined by 4.7 percent to $13,446 per pupil, compared to charter school funding which decreased by 18.8 percent to $8,780 per pupil.
  • Milwaukee - Traditional public school students received a 14.2 percent increase as per pupil funding rose to $15,018, while charter school funding decreased by 5.6 percent to $10,298 per pupil.
  • Newark - Traditional public school students encountered a slight loss in funding, falling 2.8 percent to $26,187 per pupil; however, public charter school funding increased by 30.2 percent per pupil to $15,973.
  • Washington, DC - Per pupil funding for traditional public schools in D.C. increased by 3 percent to $29,145 and public charter school per pupil funding increased by 8.6 percent to $16,361 per pupil.

“As demonstrated in this research, public charter school students are being punished simply for choosing the best school to meet their needs,” said Ed Kirby, deputy director at the Walton Family Foundation. “Equitable public funding must follow students to their school of choice. We encourage state and federal policymakers to respond to the growing demand for multiple, publicly funded school choices and create a public policy environment that values each student equally.”
The Walton Family Foundation commissioned this report to identify funding discrepancies in order to pursue solutions that give all public school students equitable access to resources. This research is a precursor to a forthcoming report in 2014 that will analyze funding variances between traditional public and public charter schools in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

About the Research Team
Larry Maloney, Meagan Batdorff, Jay May and Michelle Terrell have researched school finance issues for the past two decades. The team researched funding disparities for The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s 2005 report, “Charter School Funding: Inequity’s Next Frontier.” Ball State University published the group’s follow-up research in 2010, “Charter School Funding: Inequity Persists.”

About the Walton Family Foundation
Driven by the urgent need to improve K-12 education in the United States, the Walton Family Foundation has invested more than $1 billion to date in initiatives that expand parental choice and equal opportunity in education. Empowering parents to choose quality schools, regardless of type - traditional public, private or public charter school - will help spur the bold transformation of our national K-12 system of public education. Our nation’s children will only reach their potential in today’s global economy by having access to a high-quality, publicly funded education. Visit the foundation at: