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Report: Colorado school districts not funding charters equally

Colorado’s charter schools receive fewer dollars per pupil than traditional public schools, according to a new study released today.

The state earned a “D” from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas, which produced the report, because charter schools here on average have $2,316 less per pupil than district-run schools.

The study, published today, looked at funding patterns in the 30 states with the highest concentration of charter schools and found only a handful of examples of equitable funding between district run and charter schools: Tennessee, New Mexico and Texas. The other 27 states, including Colorado, had funding disparities of 15 percent or higher.

Nationally, charter schools receive, on average, $3,509 less per pupil than district-run public schools. The funding disparity has increased by 54.5 percent during the last eight years and is even greater in major urban areas with significant charter school enrollment, the study found.

All dollar figures have been adjusted for inflation.

On average, Colorado’s district run schools receive about 20 percent more funding than charter schools.

The largest disparity in funding in Colorado comes from local revenue, the report concluded.

That’s because school districts don’t often share money from voter-approved bond or mill levies, said Stacy Rader, spokeswoman for the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

Colorado law does allow for charters to have equal access to that stream of revenue, Rader said. But in practice, that’s isn’t always the case.

Colorado charters did buck a nationwide trend in their ability to raise outside funds, however. On average, charter schools raised $1,450 per pupil in 2011, while district-run schools raised only $854. But, Rader cautioned, larger networks of charters like Denver’s DSST or STRIVE Prep, often distort the reality of smaller, stand alone charter schools.

“There are a handful of charters like DSST, that are fantastic at raising money,” she said. “But the average charter school is raising little to no funds.”

The report found three major trends nationwide:

  • The funding disparity between traditional schools and charter schools has increased more than 54 percent in eight years.
  • Charter schools saw a greater decrease in funding during the economic crisis than traditional schools
  • State K-12 funding policies are creating the structural disparities

This is the third report examining the funding differences between district-run  and charter schools from the University of Arkansas since 2003. The School Choice Demonstration Project is a program of the university’s Department of Education Reform that conducts research on school choice and voucher programs around the nation.

National findings

Colorado report