Charter schools provide more education for less money

Feb 18, 2016

Tomorrow, Friday February 19 at 1:30 pm, the House Education Committee will hear HB 2367, a bill to save charter schools. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle) and Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-Issaquah). Its companion bill in the Senate, SB 6194, has already passed with bipartisan support. New information from the Washington State Charter School Association shows charter schools do not get local levy funds, so they receive 20 percent less funding than traditional schools.

Charter schools were on schedule to receive these levy funds, phased in over time, until the state supreme court ruling last fall declared charter schools are not common schools, and not entitled to receive the same funding as other schools.   

HB 2367 would respond to the court ruling by creating a system of charter schools separate from the common school system. Charter schools under this separate system would receive only state and federal funding, and no local levy funding. The state now provides such high levels of funding, at about $9,000 per student, that charter schools will still have sufficient funding.

Early results show charter schools are delivering impressive gains in student learning. For example, at Rainier Prep Charter school, students are on track to make two years' progress in reading in one year. Other charter schools are also making strong gains for their students, as described here.

Charter schools are providing more education for less money because they are allowed to operate independently of many of the unnecessary bureaucratic restrictions. In a charter school the most important decisions are made by the school’s local community. It is this local, personalized control which delivers real excellence in education. Charter schools spend 96 cents of every school dollar right in the school building, as compared to the 60 cents of every dollar reaching school classrooms in other schools.

Charter schools provide a basic education to each student, and all charter schools offer one or more enhancements to the basic program, including:  

More hours to the school day. 

More days to the school year.

Extra instruction in math and science.

Extra instruction in reading.  

Instruction on a string instrument.

Instruction in computer programming.  

            Immersion in a foreign language.

            Daily dance instruction.

“Expeditions” elective courses in art and music, or volunteering in the community, eight weeks a year.

Professional development of teachers.

Summer school.

Character development, such as the Habits of Mind program.

For more details on these charter school enhancements, see our “Opening New Doors” study here.

Charter schools get less funding, but they also get real value from the involvement of parents. The charter school model puts parents in the “driver’s seat.” Instead of being assigned to a school, parents voluntarily decide to enroll and keep their children in a charter school. This decision-making power involves and engages parents in a real and meaningful way, before school even starts. Parents and charter schools work closely together to prevent children from being left behind, a partnership of immeasurable value to the charter schools and to the children they are designed to serve.        

This report is part of WPC's Charter School Follow-up Project