So today's much-vaunted study to push the ballot question to lift the charter cap comes from the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation. They've found, they've said, that the spending within the charter sector has grown at about the same rate as spending in the rest of Massachusetts public education. They put forth that charters, with 4% of the student population, are spending 4% of the K-12 education funding.
If that is in fact the case, that's really a problem.
There's often a back and forth about numbers of students with particular needs served by charter schools, 'though the information at a certain level is available online. What's too often missed in this conversation is that special education funding has no relationship to the actual enrollment of kids with special education needs. Right now, special education is funded at a flat 3.75% of kids enrolled in a district or charter school. That is included in the funding whether or not the school has any kids with special education needs.
What isn't broken out in the state profiles is levels of student need. I think we all recognize, for example, that the kids who have a learning disability who need extra classroom support are different from kids who need a one-to-one aide to (for example) manage their feeding tube and breathing apparatus. Both of these kids and everyone in between are in district schools. That is not the case with charter schools. Yet charter schools, too, get that same flat 3.75% of enrollment for special education.
And special education, as has been recognized for over a decade now (check the footnotes) is costing significantly more than what's in the foundation budget (see page 9) and is rising considerably faster than the increase in inflation. Thus this isn't only a gap: it's a gap that's growing at an exponential rate every year.
Thus if in fact we are spending 4% of K-12 spending on 4% of the population that's in charter schools, we should be concerned.
We should also be concerned that a group that regards itself as a fiscal watchdog wouldn't understand this.