It's about great public schools.

I.B.O. finds charters get less money per student

I.B.O. finds charters get less money per student

Capital New York | By Eliza Shapiro | Jul. 23, 2015

New York City charter schools continued to receive less money than traditional district schools in the 2014-2015 school year, and funding divides are still growing, according to a report released Thursday by the Independent Budget Office.

During the most-recent academic year, district schools received an average of $17,928 for each general education student. Charters in co-located schools received $29 less per student on average than their district school counterparts. The divide is much greater for charters located in private spaces: they received an average of $2,914 less per student than their district school counterparts, a 16 percent difference.

The disparity between charter schools in private spaces and district schools has increased since the 2009-2010 school year, when the I.B.O. first studied funding differences, in part because of a $1,376 per-pupil funding increase for district school students.

Teachers' salaries and pension costs also have risen, contributing to the district school increases, according to the I.B.O.

The report gives the city's influential charter sector ammunition to fight claims, largely made by teachers' unions, that charters are well-funded because of their backers in the finance industry.

One of the charter sector's most vocal groups, Families for Excellent Schools, released a statement with that sentiment on Thursday. "This independent report shows once and for all that the rhetoric from special interests is completely wrong—public charter school students are underfunded and deprived of the resources they deserve," said Jeremiah Kittredge, the group's C.E.O.

The significant difference between funding for charters that share space with traditional schools and charters located in private spaces sheds light on another divide within the charter sector.

The vast majority of the city's large charter networks, including the largest and most powerful, Success Academy, are co-located in district schools. Though co-locations have led to controversy, they constitute a good financial deal for the charter operators.

Large networks, including Success, tend to have the wealthiest group of donors. But independent charter schools, which tend to be less heavily backed by financiers, are largely located in private space and must pay hefty rent costs. Charter advocates and leaders of independent charters have tried to push the state Legislature to take up uneven facilities funding in recent years. But facilities funding as a political issue has been dwarfed by the state's cap on charters.

Large charter networks and their influential affiliates, like Families for Excellent Schools, have held massive rallies calling on the state to lift the cap and have spent millions on cap-related lobbying and advertising.

Changes to the current charter funding formula depend on Albany.

The Legislature has handed the charter sector major victories over the last two sessions, boosting the charter cap and forcing the city to pay rent for charters that cannot be housed in a public space. The I.B.O. report predicts that funding for some charters will increase somewhat in the next several years due to the new rent laws. Charters that cannot be accommodated in a public space are eligible for a $2,775 boost per student to help cover the cost of rent.

Still, there's no guarantee that overall funding formulas will become more equitable unless Albany adjusts the state-mandated formula.

In a statement on Thursday, James Merriman, C.E.O. of the New York City Charter School Center, indicated that charter groups will continue to lobby for funding formula changes in Albany next year. "This report underlines the urgent need to take steps to correct and improve funding for charter schools and the students they serve so that the gap is not just narrowed but erased for once and for all," Merriman said.

StudentsFirstNY and the Northeast Charter Schools Network also released statements calling on the state to update the funding formula.

Read the full I.B.O. report here: