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An Offer They Can Refuse?

One of the most consistent complaints from charter advocates like the New York State Charter Schools Association is that charter schools do not receive funding equivalent to district schools. And despite the UFT’s offers to work together to understand these issues and lobby for appropriate changes to the charter funding formula, the charter advocates show little real interest. One wonders why…

In aggregate, charter funding approximates the school district’s average per pupil expenditure. This means that all of the city’s expenditure on students with special needs, like English language learners, gets passed onto the charters. Sounds fair, right?

The problem is that not every charter school pulls its weight. For example, while 13% of students in the City are English language learners and charters receive their funding based on this figure, only 3 of the 56 charters (for which data are available) educated the same percentage (or more) of such students. More alarmingly, 36 of the schools had no English language learners enrolled, despite being funded to do so. In a similar vein, when it comes to educating the city’s poorest children (as measured by the percentage of students eligible to receive free lunch) 37 of the 56 charter schools were below the city average of 65%. This obvious inequity is one of the issues raised by NYSUT in an effort to create fairer funding streams.

Who are these schools? Those educating the poorest students turn out to be unionized or independently operated “mom-and-pop” charters, including Family Life Academy, Opportunity Charter School, New Heights Academy, and Wildcat Academy. By comparison, two-thirds of schools operated by a CMO or EMO were below the city average and the same CMO-affiliated schools report enrolling no English language learners. Given the intense efforts to replicate CMO schools, it appears as if students most at-risk of academic failure are being left out in the cold.

And now things start to be a little clearer. When the charter funding formula is revised to create greater equity across all New York City public schools and with some sensitivity to the actual students enrolled, schools that stand to gain are the small community-based charters that are doing their fair share to educate students at-risk of academic failure. Meanwhile, the major players in New York City’s charter movement — already loaded up with private philanthropy — all could lose funding. If the picture’s not clear, the below charts speak for themselves. (Click on each graph for a larger version.)

Free Lunch Eligibility

Note: The city wide average is 65% (school year 06/07, the same as the data).
Disclosure: 63% of UFT Charter school students are eligible for free lunch.

English Language Learners

Note: The city wide average is 13% (school year 06/07, the same as the data).
Disclosure: 1% of students served by the UFT Charter School are English language learners.



  • 1 Sunday links. « Fred Klonsky’s blog
    · Apr 5, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    […] When it comes to English Language Learners and poor kids, NY’s big charter schools get funds but don’t do the job says EdWize. […]

  • 2 Kelly Wachowicz
    · May 25, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Wondering what your information sources are for the assertion that the big network charter schools have lower percentage of low-income students than mom and pops? I’d be curious to know which ones you are referring to?

  • 3 Allison Armour-Garb
    · Jun 2, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    I hope folks interested in this topic will attend our forum on Wednesday, June 10th, “This Is Not Your Mom and Pop’s Charter School,” a roundtable discussion with Michelle Bodden of the UFT Charter School; Chester E. Finn, Jr. of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and Doug Lemov of Uncommon Schools. The forum will be held Wed. June 10 from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, 411 State Street, in Albany. RSVP to charbonm@rockinst.org