New funds to charter schools underscore inherent systematic flaw with school finance

Josephine MacLean

Texas practices something called student-based funding, meaning districts get money depending on how much they raise from taxes per weighted student. After a series of complicated algorithms determine whether the state will re-distribute or add to local tax money, as part of recapture, funds are then distributed based on how many students attend.

Charter schools receive a portion of student-based funding too, and, until now, did not receive the portion of per-student funding that comes from local taxes or is allotted for facility building and maintenance. But Texas just passed legislation that will allocate $60 million to charter schools specifically for facilities funding, to build or maintain buildings.

While $60 million is admittedly a small portion compared to the billions that go to education from the state revenue, this legislation highlights underlying problems with how the state funds education.

The inherent flaw in our legislation is the idea that we can estimate how much money is needed for an average student. Although this is technically an equitable way to fund, it leaves behind kids who lack resources and support in their home backgrounds.

Although they are open enrollment, charters have caps on how many students they can accept and parents must request the transfer for their child to attend. Charter school enrollment of economically disadvantaged kids hovers around 70 percent since 1994, when Texas first began allowing charters. But, consistently, charter schools are found to have student populations with higher social capital such as parent involvement or the presence of a dictionary in the home, than their public school counterparts in similar neighborhoods.

There’s not a definitive consensus on whether this trend is due to creaming, the idea that charters are skimming the best students off the top of the public school pool, or due to a change in culture once families enroll. Either way, the fact remains that charters benefit disproportionately from higher parent involvement, which is crucial to academic success. There are more factors at play than just numbers of students in determining school success, and there should be more factors taken into account when it comes to determining school funding as well.

Charters being barred from receiving local funds may seem inequitable. When you take into account the other soft resources, even ones as simple as parents who have the motivation to fill out forms to transfer their kids, it becomes clear that they have certain advantages over public schools. Traditional public schools deserve priority when it comes to funding to make up for lack of resources elsewhere, like replacing buildings that are no longer safe for use, a hot subject for Austin’s next bond election. Not all costs are monetary.

Traditional public schools, while not a perfect model on their own, must educate every child that comes in the door, whether their parent encourages them to be there or not. For that reason, state funding for facilities specifically should not be going to schools that are not subject to the same challenges.

MacLean is an advertising and geography junior from Austin. She is a senior columnist. Follow her on Twitter @maclean_josie.