Paul Dunphy: Public school burdened by charter financing

Last modified: Thursday, June 06, 2013

To the editor:

Perhaps inadvertently, the authors of two recent guest editorials promoting charter schools misrepresent the formula governing reimbursement of charter costs to public school districts.

Contrary to the authors’ claims, public school districts are not reimbursed for each student who attends a charter school. Every year there are new charter students, as some enroll and others leave. Under the state formula, public school districts only receive reimbursement if their total charter school costs increase from one year to the next, and the reimbursement is only on the increase.

If, for example, Northampton loses $1.65 million to charter schools in 2013, and the loss increases to $1.7 million in 2014, because, say, the per student cost goes up, the district is reimbursed only on the $50,000 increase. And the reimbursement is made at a declining rate over several years. So in time, virtually the entire financial burden of charter schools falls on public school districts.

In addition to generous tuition, charter schools annually receive $893 per student in what is called “facilities aid,” although the money can be spent on any cost. Facilities aid is in the same state budget line as reimbursement. In recent years, the account has not been adequately funded to cover 100 percent of both facilities aid and reimbursement. But the shortfall is not equally shared. Charter schools get 100 percent of their facilities aid and public school districts bear the shortfall on reimbursement.

Charter schools substantially drive up education costs. They force public school districts to pay for more administrators, teachers, facilities, computers, books and supplies at charter schools — all to educate roughly the same number of students previously enrolled in public schools. Since charters get their money first, off the top of a district’s state education aid, cities and towns must either cut staff and programs in their own schools or raise taxes. Northampton is pursuing both cuts and a Proposition 2 ½ override, in part to pay for charter schools that voters never approved, may not want and can’t afford.

Paul Dunphy



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