In case you don’t have time to read the full report released by “In the Public Interest” about the real costs of charter schools, Jan Resseger has done it for you.

Legislators pretend that charters are simply a “choice,” and pay no attention to the fiscal damage they impose on the public schools that educate the majority of children and lose revenue. Thus, the decision to have more charters reduces the quality of education for the majority of children in the district or the state.

She writes:

“What stands out in this report is the perfectly lucid explanation about exactly how charter school funding depletes the budgets of local school districts and what it means for the students left in the traditional public schools when some students carry their per-pupil funding away to a charter school: “To the casual observer, it may not be obvious why charter schools should create any net costs at all for their home districts. To grasp why they do, it is necessary to understand the structural differences between the challenge of operating a single school—or even a local chain of schools—and that of a district-wide system operating tens or hundreds of schools and charged with the legal responsibility to serve all students in the community. When a new charter school opens, it typically fills its classrooms by drawing students away from existing schools in the district. By California state law, school funding is based on student attendance; when a student moves from a traditional public school to a charter school, her pro-rated share of school funding follows her to the new school. Thus, the expansion of charter schools necessarily entails lost funding for traditional public schools and school districts. If schools and district offices could simply reduce their own expenses in proportion to the lost revenue, there would be no fiscal shortfall. Unfortunately this is not the case.”

“The report continues: “If, for instance, a given school loses five percent of its student body—and that loss is spread across multiple grade levels, the school may be unable to lay off even a single teacher… Plus, the costs of maintaining school buildings cannot be reduced…. Unless the enrollment falloff is so steep as to force school closures, the expense of heating and cooling schools, running cafeterias, maintaining digital and wireless technologies, and paving parking lots—all of this is unchanged by modest declines in enrollment. In addition, both individual schools and school districts bear significant administrative responsibilities that cannot be cut in response to falling enrollment. These include planning bus routes and operating transportation systems; developing and auditing budgets; managing teacher training and employee benefits; applying for grants and certifying compliance with federal and state regulations; and the everyday work of principals, librarians and guidance counselors.” As other studies have shown, the greatest fiscal burden for local school districts is for special education, because traditional public schools continue to serve the children with the most serious disabilities, the children who require expensive services most charters elect not to provide.

“What about the problems in school districts where the school population is already shrinking? In recent years charters have somehow been prescribed in places like Chicago and Detroit and Cleveland as a way to attract families to the district. But ITPI’s report explains why such thinking is flawed: “It is true that shrinking student populations cause a fiscal crisis for school districts. However, charter schools exacerbate this problem in unique ways. First, charter schools make it extremely difficult for districts to consolidate schools in the face of falling enrollment… When the creation of new schools is no longer tied to student population growth but rather is open to any number of entrepreneurs aimed at competing for market share, the inevitable result is an increased number of schools for the same population of students. In Albany, New York, over the course of a decade the district went from serving 10,380 students in 17 schools to serving just slightly more students—10,568—but in 24 schools…. And the New York Times reported that in the city of Detroit, ‘the unchecked growth of charters has created a glut of schools competing for some of the nation’s poorest students, enticing them to enroll with cash bonuses, laptops, raffle tickets for iPads and bicycles…’ The problem is particularly destructive in communities whose total school population is already shrinking…. In such districts school systems already struggling to meet student needs with diminishing resources are faced with additional dramatic cuts in funding.”

It makes perfect sense to everyone other than legislators and charter lobbyists.