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Report: Charter schools receive less money per student

Published: Sunday, May 4 2014 3:05 p.m. MDT

A University of Arkansas study shows that charter schools in Utah and nationwide receive far less money per pupil than traditional public schools. But the Utah Taxpayers Association says the gap is much smaller.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Charter schools in Utah and nationwide are receiving far less than they're due, according to a new study.

In fact, Utah received a "D" grade for its equity between charter schools and traditional public schools.

The study, "Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands" by researchers at the University of Arkansas, measured the amount of funding received by charter and district schools nationally and by state, as well as focus areas within urban school districts during the 2011 fiscal year. Researchers in the university's department of education reform conducted the study.

Districts nationwide received $3,509 per pupil more than charter schools, and focus areas received $4,352 more, according to the study.

In Utah, school districts received $1,643 more than charter schools and $1,687 when weighted for the number of students enrolled in charter schools. Salt Lake City School District students received $3,353 more than their charter counterparts, and in Granite School District the gap was $874.

“Unfortunately, the report is an accurate reflection of what is happening,” said Chris Bleak, president of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools.

Data from the Utah Taxpayers Association show that the gap between district and charter funding exists but not to the extent that the University of Arkansas study reports.

Utah school districts received $821 per pupil more than charter schools in the 2011-12 school year, according to the association. The data may reflect the improvement that has been made over time or a difference in reporting, as the University of Arkansas study measured by fiscal year and the Utah Taxpayers Association measured school-year financials.

Though charter schools receive some money from private sources, that funding is not consistent, Bleak said. The University of Arkansas study showed that districts in Utah were 7 percent publicly funded, compared with charter schools at 4.5 percent.

Roughly 7 percent, or 40,121, public school students attend charter schools in Utah, with the remaining 536,214 students attending traditional public schools.

Those who attend charter schools do so to meet "vast and different and niche" needs within the public school system, Bleak said. "I don't see any reason why that shouldn't and couldn't exist in the public education system."

For example, the Utah Academy of Math, Engineering & Science focuses on providing math, science and engineering classes, in addition to international baccalaureate, college preparation and college courses.

Brett Wilson, CEO and principal of the academy, said the charter school buses 202 of its 491 students from the Granite and Salt Lake City school districts. But the charter school is feeling the squeeze of bearing the cost of bringing those students in, he said.

"One of the changes I'd like to see in terms of funding in the state of Utah is we don't see any transportation funds," Wilson said.

Charter and traditional public schools receive about the same funding on the federal and state levels. The discrepancy occurs on the local level.

Charter schools in Utah do not receive local property tax revenue and transportation funding like district schools do. Instead, they're given a stipend from the Legislature to replace the property tax cost.

Charter schools receive about $1,700 per pupil from the state, with 10 percent of that covering costs of school facilities, according to the study. School districts receive $2,562 per pupil from the state.

The difference in transportation funding seems to be because charter schools are an optional service.

“A school district serves a defined geographic region, whereas a charter school is a school of choice, and it is largely assumed that the school is not taking on transportation,” said Cory Kanth, statewide online education program specialist with the Utah State Office of Education.

While some say charter schools encourage competition to create the best teachers and teaching methods, others are hesitant to say they are beneficial.

There is a place for magnet and charter schools, according to Alpine School District spokesman John Patten. However, charter schools tend to take away funding and students who perform well academically from the traditional public school population, he said.

"It creates unfair competition, not healthy competition," Patten said, adding that districts discharge a "stewardship to all children" and welcome everyone in the community.

"It's not based on a raffle or your background or your level of academic ability," he said. "Our doors are open to everyone. That's the mandate of a public school."

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com, Twitter: whitevs7

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