Matthew Henry Young: Proposed Budget Challenges Educational Choice, Families

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The Rhode Island House Finance Committee’s proposed budget includes, among other things, a substantial cut to funding for Rhode Island’s 18 charter schools. Charter schools receive government funding, but are managed separately from the public school system, and are able to tailor their programs, hiring, and management to meet specific goals. The proposed budget would allow for municipalities to subtract certain costs from their funding for local charter schools—a move that could hamstring high-performing charter schools, and will reduce any edge that charter schools enjoy in providing a higher quality education.

Charter schools are an important part of providing educational choice and freedom to Rhode Island’s families—without the presence of charter schools, children from low-income families unable to afford private school tuition may be trapped in underperforming public schools.

Rhode Island can ill afford more setbacks to its educational system. While Rhode Island ranks 29th in the nation for educational attainment in the Family Prosperity Index, minority groups experience substantially different outcomes. According to data from the American Community Survey, African American and Hispanic youths in Rhode Island are 2 and 3 times less likely (respectively) to graduate from high school; a trend that is mimicked in college-graduation rates.

Many of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable communities are being poorly served by the public school system—the last thing we should be doing is limiting their choice of schools.



  • Lance Wilson

    “Many of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable communities are being poorly
    served by the public school system—the last thing we should be doing is
    limiting their choice of schools.”

    So, we shouldn’t feel bad then for the charter school down in one of the wealthiest part of our state that is 97% white and 9% low-income students – I’m not sure why you want to include them in the grouping of serving “RI most vulnerable communities”. Arguably, the money going to them from the sending districts are actually *hurting* minority/low income students since (1) the school isn’t taking them and (2) there is little offsetting expenses to lose a handful of students per grade from a dozen schools who will do well in either school system.

    Your (and the charter school movement in general) argument would be better served if the effort truly focused – as you see with the Blackstone Valley – first on those communities while closing the districts (ie. Central Falls which is being bailed out again and again) that the state as a whole is paying for already or paying those low income families to pick any school (private, charter, other public) and closing entire schools.

    “The proposed budget would allow for municipalities to subtract certain
    costs from their funding for local charter schools—a move that could
    hamstring high-performing charter schools, and will reduce any edge that
    charter schools enjoy in providing a higher quality education.”

    So your argument is charter schools need the funding that their counterpart (sending) schools are NOT using on their own kids to have an edge. Let’s look at the approx UCOA data (since that according to the state allows for comparisons):

    Overall: $15.9K
    Charters: $15.7K

    Instruction/Instructional Support (the spending on direct education):

    Charters: $10,650 per pupil
    State avg: $11,000 per pupil

    Okay, maybe charters do a better job here..but the rest of the story

    Operations:

    Charters – 2.6K per pupil
    State – 2.6K per pupil

    Other Commitments

    Charters – 160 per pupil
    State – $1,400 per pupil

    Administration/Leadership

    Charters – $2,300 per pupil
    State – $900 per pupil

    In other words, that “edge’ charters get from less “other” seems to go to administration/leadership (you know, those owners of the charters have to get paid).

    What’s other commitment (taking out payments to charters, which of course skews the data since charters don’t have that cost) – it’s mainly other out of district placements and things like private school transportation, etc.

    Charters – $30 per pupil OOD
    State – $530 per pupil OOD (non-charter)

    Look at per pupil for administrators

    Charters are 55% above the state average; and the percentage is about the same for administration.

    Now, it’s not of course charter school admins/principals are getting paid a lot more (I don’t think) – it’s an economy of scale issue.

    So, instead of whining about loss of funds that were also not going to kids in local schools either, charter schools collectively should be, since this is in the wheelhouse of the LtGov who is all about charters and regionalization, looking at ways to share services. Why should a single school have it’s own HR for 30 teachers? Its own business officer at a per pupil cost that’s way above a normal school district where the business officer manages 4-8 schools? Charters are a perfect case study in regionalization — maybe the loss of funding will be a forcing function.

    Also, instead of lumping all charters as “charters”, start with asking why we have ones at above/equal to the state average but demographically are far below the state in terms of minority/low income. If it’s really about “low income family choice” – why do you have schools that cater to non low-income families?

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