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At What Cost?

National Journal Education Experts discuss “Let’s Start With Charter Schools”

There are many good points raised here with regard to charters’ impact, innovation, and access. One critical point not raised is the challenge of devising a funding system that is best for all children and taxpayers. Education leaders have the responsibility of creating a level playing field for all students. This means making sure we understand where true costs lie, what incentives are created, and how current funding systems and school systems must transition so students are not penalized by virtue of being in one type of school or another.

Creating funding systems that equitably allocate dollars to schools based on their students’ needs requires careful and deliberate consideration of three key issues. First, what cost elements must be accounted for in a funding system? Second, how do student characteristics (poverty, special education identification, ELL, etc.) change the funding level? And third, what pricing structures will create incentives for serving children in innovative, high quality settings, but not penalize students in traditional settings?

If different students’ learning needs are not adequately accounted for in the funding system, then entrepreneurs can find ways to profit by attracting students that cost less to serve, thus taking desperately needed resources from the most needy. Additionally, if existing facilities or accounting and payroll services are not leveraged, charters end up duplicating services already supported by taxpayers, the district ends up paying more per student to sustain them, and, again, scarce resources are drained from instruction.

The expansion of charter schools cannot be funded in ways that deplete traditional public systems of precious resources, and harm the students who remain. This will inevitably end up doing more harm than good. The best answer requires taking a holistic view both of funding and sharing innovative instructional practices that maximizes the opportunity for all students to achieve.

Visit the National Journal to read other experts’ commentaries.

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