Choice as a Substitute for Adequacy?


Another excerpt from forthcoming work…

Much of the expansion of charter schooling occurred during the recession. That is, states were adding schools while reducing overall funding, adding inequitable choices on top of increasingly inequitable and inadequate systems.  Expanded charter schooling was a centerpiece of the Duncan/Obama education reform platform which coincided with the recession and “new normal” era.

Cursory descriptive analyses (as well as more complex longitudinal models) suggest that states which most expanded their charter sectors are also among those states which most reduced their overall effort toward financing public education. This is a disturbing finding in part because charter schools rely similarly on public financing. Reducing public financing affects negatively both district and charter schools. Further, increasing the number of schools, holding enrollments constant, shifting students from one sector to another creates additional costs, at least in the short run.[i]

It is conceivable that state policymakers with an ideological preference for choice and the assumption that a competitive market based system can “do more with less,” apply that ideology to state tax and spending policies. Or it just may be that states where legislators prefer choice and charter schools are also states where legislators prefer not to raise taxes or spend money on schools in general, whatever type. Whatever the cause, Figure 1 shows that states like Colorado and Arizona with very high charter market share have, in 2015, the lowest effort rates for financing public education (inclusive of charter spending).  Michigan, another high charter share state reduced its effort more than any other state from 2007 to 2014 (Figure 2, applying alternative measure of effort).  Overall, higher charter share states have lower effort.

Figure 1

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Figure 2

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Focusing on four high charter market share states – Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and Ohio – we can see in Figure 3 that beginning in 2009 as charter market shares accelerated beyond 5%, state and local effort toward financing public schools dropped precipitously. All four states have charter market shares over 5%, with Colorado and Arizona over 10%. Two of the four states started as low effort states and two as higher effort states. Michigan and Arizona saw the greatest drop in effort, but effort also declined in the other two.

Figure 3

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Whether there is causal direction between charter market share and state effort or these patterns merely exist as a function of shared ideologies of state policymakers, these patterns are problematic for both charter and district schools in these states. Equitable and adequate financing is prerequisite regardless of operator type.

[i] Bifulco, Robert, and Randall Reback. “Fiscal impacts of charter schools: lessons from New York.” Education Finance & Policy  9.1 (2014): 86-107.

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