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Adding Up the Spending: Fiscal Disparities and Philanthropy Among New York City Charter Schools

In prominent Hollywood movies and even in some research studies, New York City (NYC) charter schools have been held up as unusually successful. This research brief presents a new study that analyzes the resources available to those charter schools, and it also looks at their performance on state standardized tests. The study reaches some surprising conclusions, some of which include the following:

• Spending by NYC charter schools varies widely, and these differences in spending per pupil appear to be driven primarily by differences in access to private donors. The most well-endowed charters receive additional private funds exceeding $10,000 per pupil more than traditional public schools receive. Other charters receive almost no private donations. (The study’s analysis is based on data from 2006 to 2008 contained in audited annual financial reports, IRS tax filings of non-profit boards overseeing charter schools and charter management organizations.)

• Outcomes also vary widely. However, there is little or no relationship between spending and test score outcomes after including appropriate controls. Some high-spending and some low-spending charters perform well, while others perform quite poorly. The study also finds that charters are, on average, not outperforming non-charter publics in NYC.

• NYC charter schools serve, on average, far fewer students who are classified as English Learners or who are very poor. Both groups of students require more resources to teach than do other students, meaning that charters with lower enrollments of these more resource-intensive students can devote their funding to other purposes.

The findings with regard to New York City Charter Schools may or may not be transferable to other settings across the country. Certainly, the wealth and philanthropic culture of NYC is unique. Further, NYC is much larger than other cities and more racially and socioeconomically diverse as well, creating greater opportunities for cream-skimming, segregation, and neighborhood selection. But, many other cities—including Philadelphia, Houston and San Francisco—are struggling with similar issues and adopting comparable policies for mediating within-district funding equities, while simultaneously the number of charter schools is increasing. Leaders in these cities would do well to consider carefully the information and questions raised in this new study.

Suggested Citation:

Baker, B.D. & Ferris, R. (2011). Adding Up the Spending: Fiscal Disparities and Philanthropy among New York City Charter Schools. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved [date] from