Funding equity is an important issue in education for one simple reason: it is a matter of educational justice for students. Unfortunately, in the world of educational politics, it is easy to lose sight of that bottom line. The politics of division that Chancellor Klein has pursued on the charter school front has claimed as part of its collateral damage rational, fact-based evaluation of charter school funding: as of late, there has been a great deal more heat than light in such discussions.
For many years, the only serious scholarly study of the subject was a 2004 paper, Charter School Funding in New York, authored by Jonathan Gyurko, now of the UFT, and Robin Jacobowitz of NYU. The websites of the New York City Charter School Center and the New York Charter School Association linked to this detailed evaluation of the complicated funding formula, and Charter School Center CEO Merriman commended it in a New York Times interview. Last year, during the bitter debates that accompanied the funding freezes of district and charter schools, Gyurko updated that analysison Edwize here and here. He concluded that “with the recent shift of ‘categorical funds’ into state ‘foundation aid’ and the placement of many City charter schools in Board of Education facilities,” the “modest funding gaps” that existed in 2004 had been considerably reduced, leaving “little to no operating disparities.”
On cue, Peter Murphy of the New York Charter School Association turned up the heat with the opposing claim, unsupported by any analysis or evidence, that there was as much as a 30% funding gap between district schools and charter schools.
Now New York City’s Independent Budget Office has done it own study, Comparing the Level of Public Support: Charter Schools versus Traditional Public Schools, which confirms Gyurko’s analysis. According to the IBO, charter schools housed in New York City public schools facilities received $16,373 per pupil, only $305 less than the $16,678 per student funding received by district schools — a minimal difference of approximately 1.8%. Charter schools housed in their own facilities received only $13,661 per pupil, for a $3,017 funding gap, but the great preponderance of New York City charter schools — and a growing percentage — are located in public school facilities.
The IBO study did not go into the same detail as the original Gyurko-Jacobowitz study or Gyurko’s Edwize updates. For example, it did not consider a number of the windfalls most charter schools receive. The funding formula for charters includes the pension costs of New York City public school educators, yet almost all non-union charter schools do not enroll their staff in the Teacher Retirement System. [NYCSA's Murphy was in the comments sections of Gotham Schools the other day calling for the elimination of educator pensions.] Charter schools are funded for the average of English Language Learners in district schools, even though on average, district schools have 300% more ELL students than the charter schools in their communities. And charter funding treats the funding of elementary and secondary schools the same, even though secondary schools are more expensive — and there are comparatively few secondary charter schools in NYC.
The notion that there is a significant funding disadvantage for NYC charter schools simply does not bear up to close scrutiny, as the IBO found. Yet that did not keep the charter management organizations — the New York City Charter School Center and the New York Charter School Association — from attempting to spin the IBO report to support that claim, with all of the obligatory attacks on unions. It seems that like Chancellor Joel Klein, they have decided the politics of division and strife will rebound to their benefit. And truth is the first casualty of their war.
 According to the edition of the NYC Department of Education’s Five Year Capital Plan published in February 2009, over two-thirds – 54 of 78 – of the NYC charter schools in existence in September 2008 were located in public school facilities. There is good reason to believe this is an understatement: an October 2009 Department of Education database lists 80 charter schools in NYC, with 65 located in public school facilities. Moreover, four charter schools are now in non-public school facilities that were built with DoE capital funds, with more to come. And some charter schools in private facilities are looking to move into public school facilities.