Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review of charter funding report uncovers extensive misunderstandings and mistakes

 A recent report called Charter Funding: Inequity Expands claimed to have documented large and growing inequities between school district and charter school revenues. But the report suffers from severe shortcomings that result in major misrepresentations of the condition of charter as well as district school finances, a new review released today finds.

The review was conducted for the Think Twice think tank review project by school finance expert Bruce Baker of Rutgers University and published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. Inequity Expands and accompanying state-level reports were published in April by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform. It was authored by Meagan Batdorff, Larry Maloney, Jay May, Sheree Speakman, Patrick Wolf, and Albert Cheng.

Baker’s review finds “alarmingly vague documentation” for the report’s data sources and methods, and he observes that the report’s arguments rely on “entirely inappropriate comparisons of student population characteristics.”

Worse yet, the report “displays a complete lack of understanding of intergovernmental fiscal relationships, which results in the blatantly erroneous assignment of ‘revenues’ between charters and district schools.” In most states, districts serve charters as funding conduits and also provide direct services such as transportation to those charters, Baker explains. When, e.g., an analyst assigns to the district revenues used for transportation of charter school students, both calculations are corrupted: failure to assign a resource to charters, and erroneous assigning of that resource to the district.

As a consequence of these various flaws, Baker writes, the study’s findings and conclusions are neither valid nor useful. Moreover, these flaws, if left unaddressed, would invalidate a planned follow-up study based on these findings and conclusions and attempting to make “return on investment” comparisons between charters and district schools.

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