A Deliberately Misleading Salvo in the Charter School Debate
March 19, 2014
As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader
A modest normalization of charter school funding, although long overdue, has become a political football and subject of misinformed and purposely misleading arguments to try and kill it. The truth, easily discovered, is that the proposal covers fewer than 2% of students and involves less than 2% of state education funding and continues to ask charter schools to prosper with less than half the funding of traditional schools.
Traditional public schools have seen a spending increase of 60% over the last ten years and now receive $13,500 per pupil. In contrast, public charter schools have been level funded at $5450 since their one increase five years ago, an amount that is 40% of the funding other public schools receive.
A bill before the House of Representatives would increase that funding level to 47.5% of the state average funding. The average citizen might well think it odd to expect schools to succeed on less than half the funding of their compatriots. The response of the anti-charter community is to suggest that such over-generous funding might well mark the end of civilization as we know it.
They could be excused for merely holding a silly idea if it were not for the misleading documents they have decided to start circulating to exaggerate their case.
They have circulated a document titled “Department of Education, HB435 cost projections” which might lead the casual observer to think that the document contained cost projections produced by the Department of Education. In fact it does not. Instead it was produced by an activist and includes estimates contrary to state law and misleading information, mistakes of a sort that no one in the actual Department of Education would ever make.
Sadly, the “report” is referenced in the official House Calendar as a reason to proceed cautiously.
The masquerade document presumes every charter will increase its enrollment on into the future. In reality, every charter includes for each and every year binding enrollment caps which may not be exceeded. Many existing schools have already reached their maximum and will not grow.
It also presumes that the one virtual charter school which has nominal enrollment equal to about half of all other schools combined is covered by the law and will grow significantly. In fact, that school because of its nature is funded differently and is not part of this funding stream or the bill — as the real fiscal analysis actually done by the actual department of education pointed out. A more cynical person than I am might believe those numbers were not a mistake but included to exaggerate the case being made. But I’m not a cynic.
In reality, the bill is a modest step which will make little or no difference in the structure of the billion dollar state education aid programs or the three billion of education spending in state. But it could make a dramatic difference in the life of some individual schools which make an enormous difference to some individual students.
There are about 203,000 students in New Hampshire which is more than 10% fewer than a decade ago. Fewer than 1.5% of them are in charter schools – the proposed bill would affect 2,884 students in 2015 according to its fiscal note from the real Department of Education.
State education spending will amount to $1.01 billion of the total $2.8 billion districts will spend. The additional charter school money will be within the amount budgeted for FY2015, according to documents produced by the Legislative Budget Office.
There’s no question going forward that there is an additional cost. If one believes that 47.5% of the amount traditional public schools receive is an unreasonably HIGH number and that a charter school should be able to operate on much less (not that any other school can but maybe you think that) then the funding bill is an extravagance.
However, I suspect most people will look at this and think “goodness gracious, 47.5% still seems pathetically low. What sort of nimrod thinks this is unreasonable?”
Debates can and should be based on real numbers. Charter schools, although a small component of our education system, are widely regarded by people of all ideologies and backgrounds as a very useful component of educational diversity. New Hampshire’s recent history is of charters being less controversial, more broadly supported, and partisan free.
A modest but operationally important funding adjustment should be non-controversial. I hope it will be.
Note: Read the Correction Here http://www.jbartlett.org/my-wednesday-mistake-and-the-mixed-up-charter-numbers
Excellent article. We should be promoting charter schools. Less expensive, more focused.