Barbara Madeloni Op-Ed: How Charter Schools are Hurting Public Education

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"The answer, however, is not to abandon our ideals of public education for every student.  Rather, it is to recommit both resources and attention to creating the public schools every student deserves." -Barbara Madeloni Massachusetts has a commitment to give every child in the state a good education, and right now we are failing to do so. Part of the reason is because charter schools are taking money that should be spent on public schools and essentially creating a second school system. Despite what charter schools say, numerous studies have shown that they push the most in-need students out of their system and back into the under-funded public schools. Instead of asking which factors contribute to poor education and who it affects the most, charter schools are skipping the problem all together.

Poorer communities spend less money per student on education simply because they cannot afford to tax their residents at higher rates to pay for it.  For example, in Newton in Fiscal Year 2010, the district spent about $3,000 more per student than in Lynn.  The state calculates a Foundational Budget for each district based on demographics, income, etc.  This means that Lynn had a higher Foundational Budget than Newton.  However, other factors accounted for the higher spending per student in Newton.  This Budget is used as a floor, meaning it is the least amount of money a district is allowed to spend on education.  Lynn, being less wealthy than Newton, was not able to tax its residents as much, which means the state had to step in to provide aid so that the district could reach its floor. Newton paid more per student because additional contributions through taxes were available.  Although the state tried to help lower-income communities pay for education, there was (and is) still more money for the wealthier communities because they were able to contribute more.  Learn more about how public schools are funded here.

One of the big ways in which charter schools are directly hurting public schools is through reimbursement rates promised to public schools when their students transfer to charters.  For each student, a public school is supposed to receive a 100% reimbursement for that student for the first year, and then 25% for the following five years (golocalworcester).  However, for the past several years, the state has been paying public schools much less than this.  For example, in FY2015, the reimbursement rate was only at 63%.  In Worcester, this meant that there was a $300,000 deficit in the public school budget, and in Boston it was $10 million.  Interestingly, state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz explained that $10 million was the exact amount needed for Boston public schools to bring back a bus system instead of making their students use public transit to get to and from school (telegram).

The last major issue that Madeloni discusses is how high suspension rates are in charter schools, especially among black, latino, disabled, and low-income students.  A study conducted by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice included shocking statistics about suspensions during the 2012-13 school year.  A Boston Globe article, reporting on this study, stated that 9 out of 10 of the systems with the highest rates of out-of-school suspensions were charter schools- mostly in the Boston area.  Roxbury Preparatory Charter led with 60% of its students suspended in that school year.  Next was Edward Brooke Charter with 58%.  In addition, the study found that 72% of the time, charter and traditional public schools suspended students for non-violent, non-drug related offenses- such as violating the dress code, or simply being disrespectful.  On top of this, the disciplinary rate for black students (12.10%) was more than three times as high as for whites (3.7%), with latinos (10.4%) closer to the rate for black students.  Low-income and special education students had respective rates at 10.3% and 10.6%.  Although this rate of discipline is measured taking into account both public and charter schools, since charter schools have some of the highest rates of discipline (especially suspension) in MA, this data shows that their no-tolerance policies disproportionally hurt minority, lower-income, and special needs students.

Read Barbara Madeloni's full op-ed here.

Photo: Chris Blakeley (flickr/cc)