The Magnitude of Charter Demand

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In the past couple decades — especially the first decade of this century — Rhode Island’s public school districts have lost grades’ worth of students.  In Newport, it is as if an entire high school were standing empty; Providence has fared better, losing between one and two grades’ worth of students.  Yet, budgets have continued to climb.

Rhode Islanders should think of all of those empty classrooms when they hear somebody make the point that Democrat state Senator Ryan Pearson articulates here:

The reasons why costs are projected to soar are nuanced, but Pearson points to Cumberland where education expenses grow each time a student moves from a traditional school to a mayoral academy.

The per pupil price tag stays the same, he said, but because overhead costs at the traditional school – such as teachers and classroom expenses – don’t simultaneously disappear, the net cost to the town grows overall.

Yes, costs don’t necessarily disappear on a per pupil basis, but when 7-28% of students are no longer enrolled, surely there are savings to be found.

The more salient point from the Eli Sherman article linked above, however, is stated by a charter school advocate:

“If we’re talking about saving a district to enable them to operate in perpetuity – even if means generations of education are sacrificed in the process – we have our priorities wrong,” said Mary Sylvia Harrison, a longtime educator who most recently served as vice president for programs at the Nellie Mae Foundation.

Consider this chart from Sherman:

wpri-RIcharter-seatsvsdemand-090519

 

Over the time span in the chart, demand for charter schools has grown 25%, but the number of available seats has gone down.  For the 2019-2020 school year, 8,494 students would like to attend a charter school but can’t.  If they were all in Providence, that would be more than four whole grades.  That’s a bigger number than all of Cumberland and Lincoln school districts combined.  It’s almost a full grade’s worth of students across the entire state.

Numbers of that magnitude don’t indicate a small leak of students that doesn’t allow districts to reduce their costs.  They indicate a mandate for a systemic change to the way we do education in Rhode Island.



  • Joe Smith

    “costs don’t necessarily disappear on a per pupil basis, but when 7-28% of students are no longer enrolled, surely there are savings to be found”

    Justin, for someone who usually adds context and depth to an issue, this is a rather shallow conclusion “surely there are savings to be found”

    Surely – based on a percentage no longer enrolled only? It matters though the *distribution* of the sending students based on the following:

    (1) The specific LEA of residence – if it’s 4,000 from one district versus 4,000 from 35 districts – would seem to matter as you reference in the paragraph below the chart.

    (2) The specific schools of the losses – It’s one thing to say 30 students from one class if they are all from one school – quite different if spread over 4 schools.

    (3) The specific grades of the losses – Elementary schools are usually one teacher/one class; MS/HS you have spread over teams and subjects so losing 20 from an ES grade is far different than 20 from say Gr 10 at a high school. You gloss over points (2) and (3) in simply aggregating to say “it’s four grades *IF* from Providence”

    On a side (but related note) – A bit of truth in lending from RIDE. First, around 45% of the ‘seats’ are not open – they are reserved for sibling and school staff kids. Those exemptions concentrates the households in that form of choice and thus skews the grade/school/LEA distribution.

    • Joe Smith

      So looking at the data (in fairness RIDE only gives the nice bar chart to say oh wow, look at the demand instead of posting the actual data so policy people can actually do a deeper dive – although you can APRA it Justin..), one sees:

      Take Tiverton – roughly 40 kids out of district with about 30 going to I suspect high school (Newport, Met mostly)…but it also gets about 20 kids “in” (I assume again the high school?) so the net maybe what, 10-15 kids spread out over 4 grades (possibly) in a 525 person school. I can easily see how that saves NO money on the big ticket items (staff – and thus staff compensation, transportation, and general building operating costs).

      Oh, but you say that’s Tiverton. Okay, how about SK, since according to RIDE they get no “inflow”.

      Well, 11 kids to charter HS – spread out over 4 grades in its own high school of 940 – that’s probably zero saving – even add in the couple dozen more to CHARIHO and it’s still 35 kids over 4 grades – not even a section of a course (which would only be a .2FTE even so not likely).

      70 kids to Elementary and MS charters (two) – meaning 70 kids spread over 8 grades from possibly 5 schools – again, unless there is a weird distribution (and again, 40-50% of those charter kids are siblings so almost by definition they are spread out over different grades) – you are not saving a single teacher in the sending district.

      Now, granted Providence has almost 2000 kids — out of 27,000 – spread out over more than a dozen charters over 12 grades – coming from possibly 20 something schools. Sorry didn’t have the time – and RIDE doesn’t make it easy – to look at that in depth.. but my point

      You really can’t say “surely” without doing that level of analysis. You may be right (in Providence), you are likely wrong in most of the other districts (except perhaps Pawtucket and Central Falls and that latter is state funded so there is no incentive locally to save money)

      But the honest answer is you really don’t know until someone does some real analysis, and heaven knows that won’t be RIDE (and where is the media writing on the abysmal lack of accountability?).

      Now if we wanted real savings, then charter lottery would eliminate sibling policy, start with *ONLY* 1 star, then 2 star schools so the bulk of students actually are concentrated and then I would join you in saying “surely”..but we’re content to just go along so we get charters like the one in south county that denies 100 kids from Providence (so much for a fair lottery) to spread the seats to just white, two parent kids from 4-5 star schools in south county..

      and nice quote from Ms. Harrison – who fails to disclose her organization has a significant grant relationship with a RI charter…

    • Justin Katz

      The 7-28% number was for total students lost, whether charter or otherwise. That’s in every school.

      As a general response to your points, I’d suggest they’re very static. Failing to combine classes as they shrink across schools in the district is a choice and an expense that could be saved, for example.

  • Joe Smith

    So looking at the data (in fairness RIDE only gives the nice bar chart to say oh wow, look at the demand instead of posting the actual data so policy people can actually do a deeper dive – although you can APRA it Justin..), one sees:

    Take Tiverton – roughly 40 kids out of district with about 30 going to I suspect high school (Newport, Met mostly)…but it also gets about 20 kids “in” (I assume again the high school?) so the net maybe what, 10-15 kids spread out over 4 grades (possibly) in a 525 person school. I can easily see how that saves NO money on the big ticket items (staff – and thus staff compensation, transportation, and general building operating costs).

    Oh, but you say that’s Tiverton. Okay, how about SK, since according to RIDE they get no “inflow”.

    Well, 11 kids to charter HS – spread out over 4 grades in its own high school of 940 – that’s probably zero saving – even add in the couple dozen more to CHARIHO and it’s still 35 kids over 4 grades – not even a section of a course (which would only be a .2FTE even so not likely).

    70 kids to Elementary and MS charters (two) – meaning 70 kids spread over 8 grades from possibly 5 schools – again, unless there is a weird distribution (and again, 40-50% of those charter kids are siblings so almost by definition they are spread out over different grades) – you are not saving a single teacher in the sending district.

    Now, granted Providence has almost 2000 kids — out of 27,000 – spread out over more than a dozen charters over 12 grades – coming from possibly 20 something schools. Sorry didn’t have the time – and RIDE doesn’t make it easy – to look at that in depth.. but my point

    You really can’t say “surely” without doing that level of analysis. You may be right (in Providence), you are likely wrong in most of the other districts (except perhaps Pawtucket and Central Falls and that latter is state funded so there is no incentive locally to save money)

    But the honest answer is you really don’t know until someone does some real analysis, and heaven knows that won’t be RIDE (and where is the media writing on the abysmal lack of accountability?).

    Now if we wanted real savings, then charter lottery would eliminate sibling policy, start with *ONLY* 1 star, then 2 star schools so the bulk of students actually are concentrated and then I would join you in saying “surely”..but we’re content to just go along so we get charters like the one in south county that denies 100 kids from Providence (so much for a fair lottery) to spread the seats to just white, two parent kids from 4-5 star schools in south county..

    and nice quote from Ms. Harrison – who fails to disclose her organization has a significant grant relationship with a RI charter…

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