Landmark IBO Study Finds Fiscal Inequity

There’s one burning question that has hung around NYC’s charter schools debate for years: what amount of public resources do charters have to work with, compared to district schools? Are they doing more with less, or taking more than their share? The question is enormously important for questions about fairness as well as cost-effectiveness.

Since school funding is so complicated, however, developing numbers with any rigor is a huge jobóand anyone motivated enough to try is probably an advocate of some kind. So the whole debate has been stuck in the mud of he-said, she-said.

Enter the IBO, New York City’s nonpartisan Independent Budget Office.

Acting on a request from charter critic Patrick Sullivan, the IBO developed a detailed comparison of the resources available for general education: what charter schools receive vs. what the Department of Education spends, per pupil, per year. In-kind services and shared space were given a dollar value and factored in. The IBO’s conclusion? Charter schools receive less: $305 less per pupil if they are housed in a district building, and $3,017 less per pupil if they aren’t.

This is a landmark finding, from an independent (if not charter-hostile) third party with access to all the numbers. Even at charter schools housed in district space, even with all school buses and custodians and textbooks and other services factored in, charter school students have fewer resources allocated for their education.

Talk about an inconvenient truth.

There is good reason to think the IBO study actually understates the funding disparities that charter schools face, but we can take that up later. With the basic facts about this inequality clear, there’s a new burning question: what are we going to do about it?