Right-leaning think tank finds charters a good investment
(Ark.) The return on taxpayer investment in charters schools is nearly 40 percent higher than that of traditional public schools, according to new research from the University of Arkansas.
The study, which came from the university’s right-leaning education think tank devoted to school choice issues, focused on eight metropolitan areas where charter schools have a significant and long-standing presence.
To measure the relative cost-effectiveness of charters versus traditional public schools, the team compared student test scores from the 2016 National Assessment of Educational Progress with the amount of school funding received that same year.
“Our research shows that in a variety of urban environments across the country, charter schools are more productive—in some cases significantly more productive—than traditional public schools,” said Corey DeAngelis, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute and lead author of the report.
“Elected officials and policymakers have a choice about where to invest educational resources and our research highlights the added value of investing in charter schools,” he said in a statement.
The report comes as the charter movement nationally is facing new political challenges in several parts of the country despite—or perhaps because of—the support charters are getting from President Donald Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
Recent teacher labor tension in California, Colorado and West Virginia has, at least in part, been sparked by union concerns that charters have been growing too fast or operating too much without oversight.
Charters have indeed grown rapidly, with enrollment in 2018 across 44 states and the nation’s capital exceeding 3.2 million—although that’s just a fraction of the 57 million K-12 students overall.
Based on prior research from the university’s Department of Education Reform, public charter schools receive significantly less financial support than traditional public schools. A 2018 survey on 15 urban centers across the country—which included Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Washington D.C.—calculated the gap at $5,828 per pupil.
The university’s new research is based on data collected from a different group of cities: Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, and San Antonio, in addition to New York City and the District of Columbia.
Using a formula that measures the amount of return of taxpayer investment in both traditional public schools and charters, in the same city, the researchers reported that charter schools outperform traditional schools in both math and reading cost-effectiveness.
- Charter schools delivered “a cross-city average” of an additional 5.20 NAEP points per $1,000 funded in reading, representing a productivity advantage of 6 percent for charters.
- The public charter school sector delivered a cross-city average of an additional 5.55 NAEP points per $1,000 funded in math.
- The cost-effectiveness advantage for charters compared to traditional public schools regarding NAEP reading scores ranged from 5 percent in Houston; to 96 percent in Atlanta.
The research paper is the product of the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform. Department leaders reported on their website that their mission is to provide “unbiased research” intended to inform policymakers and the public.
They noted that the department was partially funded with a $10 million gift but the donor was not named.