Virtual School Meanderings

May 19, 2019

Media Release: Reports Shed New Light On California Charter Schools’ Fiscal Impact

Note that the only reference to cyber or virtual charter schools in this series is in the second report, where it indicates that they analysis excludes the 25,000 students who enrolled in virtual charter schools from their analysis.

I should also note that one of the difficulties with this type of costing analysis is that it assumed that the loss is uniform.  For example, if a district loses ~30 students and the associated funding that they can simply cut a class of students (as ~30 students is roughly one class).  The problem is that in these ~30 students there may be three grade 1 students, five grade two students, one grade three student and so on.  This means that the school would not be able to cut a single class of students, but make do with the lower level of funding while trying to accommodate the same number of grades and classes.

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Media Release
Travis Pillow
Reports shed new light on California charter schools’ fiscal impact

Seattle, Wash. May 17, 2019 – The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) is releasing three briefs that challenge some commonly held beliefs about the impact California charter schools have on school districts.

The reports come as a state task force reviews potential charter school policy changes, and state lawmakers prepare to debate a series of bills affecting charter schools. They conclude:

Charter school growth does not account for all district enrollment declines. In the most recent school year (2018–2019), charter school enrollment growth can account for little or none of the enrollment loss experienced by Los Angeles and San Diego Unified school districts. In Oakland, the district gained more students than did charter schools. District enrollment losses stem from a combination of demographic shifts and students attending schools in nearby districts, private schools, homeschooling, or charter schools. Read our full brief on district enrollment losses.

There is no evidence that charter schools are to blame for fiscal distress in California school districts. Based on state data, we find no relationship between the share of students enrolled in charter schools and the likelihood school districts will enter fiscal distress. Between 1998 and 2015, an average of just 1.5 percent of school districts where charter schools enroll more than 10 percent of students entered fiscal distress. Read our full brief on district fiscal distress.

Charter schools have, according to available evidence, important benefits for California communities and limited costs to the state. Like all policies, charter schools impose costs and generate benefits for California students. For example, in Southern California and the Bay Area, they have been shown to lift student achievement in reading and math—and particularly for students who are black, Hispanic, and living in poverty. These benefits should be considered alongside any costs. Read our full brief on costs and benefits.

“Charter school policy is too important for California to get wrong,” said Robin Lake, CRPE’s director. “It is important for policymakers to carefully analyze the impact of charter schools for all California students, and the full range of challenges facing public education in the state.”

The reports and an accompanying blog post offer recommendations for policymakers:

1.  The state should work with school districts to develop more accurate budget and enrollment projections. This will help restore trust with taxpayers and teachers negotiating salaries, and enable an honest conversation with taxpayers and state policymakers about public schools’ funding needs.

2.  Policymakers should consider transition aid for districts where students leave for charter schools, as states like Massachusetts have done. This could help districts deal with costs they can’t easily shed, and compete more effectively to attract students.

3.  In districts struggling with the effects of persistent enrollment declines, charter schools and the state could pay into debt reduction funds that a district could tap if it made strides reducing costs and increasing financial transparency. Charter schools, in return, could receive improved access to district facilities.

For more information, or to arrange an interview with CRPE expert, please contact Travis Pillow at 407.376.3105 or

About CRPE

Part of the University of Washington Bothell, the Center on Reinventing Public Education is one of the nation’s leading sources for transformative, evidence-based ideas to improve education. To ensure all students are prepared for a rapidly changing future, CRPE puts forward rigorous research and policy analysis to help educators, policymakers, civic and community leaders, parents, and students themselves reimagine education systems and structures. Learn more about CRPE’s current research here.
Center on Reinventing Public Education
Improving education through transformative,
evidence-based ideas about/research/etc
600 1st Avenue, Suite 206 | Seattle, WA 98104 United States

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