Auditor Errs On Charter School Funding

Charter schoolsAuditor General Jack Wagner recently release a report criticizing charter school funding.  Unfortunately, the report is riddled with errors.

One key flaw is the argument that cyber schools get the same amount of funding, but spend less.  The report reads, “Under Pennsylvania’s current funding formula, brick-and-mortar charters and cyber charters receive the same amount of funding.”

But that isn’t true.  While both cyber and charter schools are subject to the same funding formula, in reality, cyber schools received less in funding in 2010-11. This comes to about $1,500 less per student.

A Huffington Post article on the Auditor General’s report takes the mistake and compounds it.  The author writes:

Students who reside within a given school district have the ability to attend a cyber charter school at a cost to the school district based on the average cost to educate a child within that school district, even though the cost to educate the child at the cyber charter school, is on average, $3,000 less.

But while the formula is “based on” a district’s spending per student, it is a fraction of that.  In 2010-11, cyber charter schools received $3,200 less per student than school districts.  Their spending (“cost”) is less because they receive less.

Spending is driven by how much funding schools have to spend.  In fact, cyber schools spent a higher share of their funding than both school districts and brick and mortar charter schools in 2010-11, according to Pa. Department of Education data.

Pennsylvania Public School Spending and Enrollment, 2010-11
School Enrollment Total Revenue Revenue per Student Total Expenditures Expenditures per Student
School Districts 1,675,137 $25,203,967,188 $15,045.91 $24,901,116,266 $14,865.12
All Charters 90,616 $1,160,540,132 $12,807.23 $1,062,592,909 $11,726.33
  Brick & Mortar 62,837 $833,001,822 $13,256.55 $738,986,181 $11,760.37
  Cyber 27,779 $327,538,310 $11,790.86 $323,606,728 $11,649.33
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Education

Priya has already pointed out other key flaws in the Auditor’s report. Included in these is the fact the report claims Pennsylvania spends more per student than other comparable states on charter schools—without noting Pennsylvania spends $1,800 to $4,800 more per student in all public schools than these states.