|Charter funding formula flawed
By Alison Perkins-Cohen
Published May 23, 2005
|THE MARYLAND State Board of Education ruled this month
that the level of public education dollars due charter
schools in Baltimore City is nearly $11,000 per pupil, far
more money than what is earmarked for each regular school
Advocates of public school education might applaud the
ruling because it indicates the level of funding that the
state believes public school students are entitled to. But
it also means that charter schools will be funded at
significantly higher levels than traditional public schools.
So every public school in Baltimore should receive at least
$11,000 for every student it serves - not just charters.
As the operator of three public schools converting to
charters, we discovered this funding discrepancy while
calculating the revenue our schools would receive using the
new charter school formula. The combination of cash and
services our students would receive next year if we operate
as a traditional public school would be only $6,900 per
pupil. According to the state ruling, converting to charters
would mean nearly $2 million in additional resources for
each of our schools.
The annual impact of providing this level of funding to all
public schools would be incredible if determined on a
school-by-school basis. Roland Park Elementary/Middle
School, for example, would receive more than $5 million in
additional resources next year if it converted to charter
status and the per pupil funding were elevated to $11,000.
City College would receive nearly $6 million in additional
In reality, the cost to the system to implement the state
board's decision for charter schools would have a
significant negative impact on all traditional public
schools. It would rob funds for other public schools by
about $164 per pupil - reducing Roland Park and City
College's budgets next year by more than $200,000.
There are about 89,500 pupils in the Baltimore City Public
School System, with 3,500 of them set to enter 12 charter
schools in the fall.
The method used by the state to calculate the "commensurate"
per pupil funding level for charters is fundamentally
flawed. The method takes Baltimore's total federal, state
and local education dollars - minus a couple of small
funding items the state considered unrelated - and divides
that by the number of public school students in Baltimore.
The state erroneously included funding for a number of city
school system expenses that do not directly serve students,
such as money earmarked for reducing the system's debt and a
reserve fund that the city is legally mandated to maintain.
The state also assumes it is appropriate to use a flat
per-pupil level for all students. In reality, all students
are not the same in terms of the services they need or the
funding they receive. In fact, federal law calls for
special-education and low-income students to be funded at a
higher level than regular public school students. Despite
this, the state calculation included federal funds reserved
for low-income students. These funds should only go to
schools serving a population that is significantly
Also, the state calculation includes more than $250 million
intended to serve special education students. These funds
serve a wide range of students, from those who are
mainstreamed into regular education classrooms to the
severely disabled. The cost of providing services for these
students varies widely, from an average of $17,000 per pupil
for certain types of students to nearly $40,000 for severely
These funds cannot be spread evenly across the system, as
the state ruling implies, because the proportion of special
education students served by any one school and the levels
of disability served vary significantly. Instead, these
funds must follow the student - as they do for traditional
Equal funding for charter schools is essential, not only for
the health of the entire public school system but also for
the long-term health of the charter school movement. One of
the main reasons for starting charter schools is that
traditional public schools are supposed to learn from
innovative practices used in charter schools. If those
innovative practices cost substantially more to provide, the
lessons are useless.
Funding charter schools at such a high level also would
undermine public support for charters and make it unlikely
that any new ones would be approved in the city or elsewhere
This decision cannot be allowed to stand, and we support
Baltimore's decision to fight the ruling. But the city
shouldn't fight alone. Parents of students in all public
schools, charter and traditional, should stand together in
legal action to reject the state's formula of inequitable
and inadequate funding. The students of Maryland deserve
Alison Perkins-Cohen is executive director of the Baltimore
Curriculum Project Inc., which operates three public schools
that are converting to charter schools.