For more than 30 years, charter schools have been a revolutionary innovation to advance student achievement, especially for poor and minority children. Although Minnesota was the first state to advance charters, California was right behind, and now enjoys more than 1,300 charters, serving 11.7 percent of the state’s students, according to the California Department of Education.
Charters are public schools allowed to operate largely outside the state’s labyrinthine Education Code, the 2023 Edition of which runs to 2,000 pages and costs $325 on Amazon.com.
But a new study found the state is slighting charters on funding, specifically in the giant Los Angeles Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District. The data are for the 2019–20 school year. The study is by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas. It looked at 18 cities, including Los Angeles and Oakland, and found:
“Despite the overall effectiveness of charter schools, our past research has demonstrated that charters tend to receive significantly less funding per pupil than TPS [traditional public schools] do, especially in urban areas. This gap has been relatively stable over time in terms of percent (although it has grown in constant dollars as TPS funding increases overall), most recently at 33 percent in 2017–18 on average in 18 major U.S. cities.”
The study graded “school funding equity” districts on an A–F scale, just like in school. It’s interesting they’re using the “equity” word, which usually means the government manipulating outcomes in a socialist direction. In this case, it means the degree to which charter schools—and their commonly minority students—have been slighted on funding. The scale:
- A = Up to 5 percent funding gap
- B = Up to 10 percent funding gap
- C = Up to 15 percent funding gap
- D = Up to 20 percent funding gap
- F = More than 20 percent funding gap
The only A grade is for Houston, with a 3.3 percent advantage for charters.
B grades went to Memphis (6.5 percent gap), Denver (7 percent gap), and Boston (9.7 percent gap).
Eight districts garnered F grades, including Los Angeles with a 26.6 percent gap and Oakland at a 33.7 percent gap. At least they weren’t Atlanta’s equity gap of 52.7 percent, or Indianapolis’s 42.5 percent.
In dollar terms, LAUSD traditional schools were given $19,630 per pupil on average, compared to $14,405 for charters—a $5,225 gap.
For OUSD, it was $21,062 vs. $13,959, a $7,103 gap.
The study noted the disparity is actually larger than the raw numbers, because charters in these cities are “serving more students in poverty than TPS in these cities do. In these cities, funding disparities would likely be even wider if we held student need constant.”
Local Control Funding Formula
The study looked at California’s Local Control Funding Formula reform from 2013–14, which was intended to spend more money in needy schools. It found, “While the LCFF did shrink the charter school funding gap somewhat from its high of 40 percent, a flaw in the formula caps a key funding stream for charters but not for TPS, resulting in the 26 percent charter school funding disparity we see for Los Angeles in 2019–20. … More states school and localities should seek full and lasting funding equity for all public school students, regardless of public school sector.”
Here’s their graph in the improvement of the charter funding gap:
Elections Have Consequences
The study doesn’t note it, but the improvement after 2017 was due to the election of a pro-charter LAUSD school board. However, last November the United Teachers of Los Angeles union got revenge and regained control of a majority on the board. Reported LAist after the election: “No clear champion for charter schools emerged in either of LAUSD’s 2022 races; none of the candidates said they felt charters should be allowed to grow.
“But one candidate stood out from the pack for her opposition to charters: [Rocio] Rivas.
“Rivas said she would make closing charter schools that aren’t meeting their academic, financial, or enrollment goals part of her strategy to combat enrollment decline on LAUSD-run campuses. She also promised to make full use of the district’s powers under Assembly Bill 1505, a new state law that could block charters’ expansion in certain neighborhoods.”
Jacobin magazine is a heavily socialist website; it’s named after the Jacobins who were the murderous leaders of the 1789 French Revolution, a precursor to the communist revolution in Russia in 1917, in which Lenin and the other mass-murderers studied the French example of mass murder with the guillotine and concluded the Jacobins hadn’t killed enough “counterrevolutionaries.” The Maoist revolutionaries in China in 1949 also modeled themselves on the Jacobins.
The magazine wrote before the election, “In LA’s School Board Race, It’s Rocío Rivas Versus Privatizers.” Which is not true, because charters are public schools, as noted above, not private schools. The article reported, “Rivas is also endorsed by the national organization of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and supports the DSA-LA’s Green New Deal for Public Schools campaign to win climate-resilient and carbon-free campuses.”
Rivas in Her Own Words
It’s worth quoting Ms. Rivas from the article. She said: “When the charter schools come in, they know the district is very bureaucratic. So the charter schools promise to break from that bureaucracy and bring innovation. Privatizers co-opt the language of social justice and claim these reforms are going to address everyone’s needs. But they’re not there to address the needs of students and communities.”
Actually, parents love these schools! I’ve visited many of them, including those serving black kids in South L.A. and Latino kids in a couple of schools. And what’s wrong with reducing the bureaucracy?
“When you start to individualize and bring competition into education, you rea
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