Chartering In New Jersey: Diverting Funds from failing Traditional Public Schools

Increasing charter school availability would increase charter school market share of total district enrollment. Although charter schools would draw students from independent, private, and religious schools, charter school growth would result in many traditional public school (TPS) student transfers. Charter schools would draw students primarily from those TPSs that parents believe are providing an inferior educational quality or that do not meet their preferences.

Charter schools would divert funds from TPSs if charter schools receive 90% of the host district average per pupil costs by grade as charter schools do in New Jersey. TPSs losing students to charter schools lose state and federal enrollment based aid. TPSs’ costs increase because costs do not decrease proportionately with lost enrollment. If charter schools receive host district revenues based on a formula similar to New Jersey’s, charter schools would be given the incentive to locate in districts with high average per pupil spending and to enroll students whose cost to educate is below the district’s average.

Charter school expansion would draw students from religious schools possibly forcing some religious schools to close or merge. The influx of students who previously attended religious schools would increase the proportion of total district enrollment in public schools whether charter or TPS. This would increase the overall cost to the district of having charter schools because a greater proportion of students would be enrolled in public schools whether charter or TPS.

Charter schools could lower their costs while increasing the proportion of the higher cost to educate students remaining in TPSs by cream skimming in potential high test scoring, well behaving (e.g., no disciplinary records), or below district average cost to educate students or cropping out higher than district average cost to educate students such as special education, ELL, or free-and-reduced-price lunch students. Charter schools may not locate randomly but target large urban districts with high per pupil spending. District enrollment losses stemming from charter school transfers might not be equally distributed among schools or by grade level. Thus, charter school expansion would result in an inequitable distribution of school resources. The inequity would be exacerbated because large urban districts have been traditionally under resourced by state school aid formulas and lack a tax base with which to raise the revenues necessary to provide an educational quality commensurate with affluent districts.

If state charter school laws require TPS districts to fully fund district charter schools and pay student transportation to charter schools, large poor urban areas could lose even more students further increasing their costs and decreasing state and federal enrollment based aid. If no provision is made to provide equally accessible and affordable transportation, charter schools might disproportionately enroll more affluent students from families who can more easily afford transportation. Not all students would have equal access to private or public transportation including public light rail. This would result in inequitable access to charter schools.

Asymmetric information might favor more affluent families who would be more aware of charter school availability and quality. TPS catchment areas losing students to charter schools in other neighborhoods even within the same district might experience an exodus of the relatively more mobile and affluent parents with a corresponding decrease in housing values. If carried to its logical extreme, unfettered charter school growth could force TPS or TPS district closures leaving neighborhoods or districts without true TPSs.

Should charter schools exit the district or close once TPSs have closed, districts would be left without the provision of true public education. Lacking public schools, districts would be forced to transport their students to other TPS districts or seek admission to non-district charter schools depending on available capacity. The impact of extreme charter school expansion would result in an inequitable distribution, accessibility, and availability of public education whether charter schools or TPSs. The inequity would most adversely affect those least able to afford or having limited access to education alternatives.

 

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