In this post, Matthew Gardner Kelly of Pennsylvania State University  explains why demands for charter moratoriums are growing.

The root of the problem is money. Public schools in most states were hurt by the recession of 2008 and funding never recovered. Adding competition with charters made the financial situation worse.

“In Pennsylvania, the local district makes a tuition payment to the charter school enrolling each student from that district. The payment is based on per-pupil spending for similar students. For example, if a fourth grader leaves a public school in the Pittsburgh School District to attend a charter, the Pittsburgh School District is required to pay the charter school $16,805.99 – which is the average amount the district spends on a student in the district.

“At first glance, it perhaps makes sense to have money follow the children. The problem is that increased charter enrollments rarely allow a district to save as much as they lose in charter tuition. As a result, without additional revenue from state governments or local taxes, districts are forced to make budget cuts and spend less on the students who remain in traditional public schools.

“Consider an example. Bethlehem Area School District paid $25 million in charter school tuition payments in 2017. It was not possible to save $25 million with the students gone, however, because of the way the students were distributed across the district.

“The students enrolled in charter schools came from 13 different grades in 22 different schools. Since students moving to a charter were rarely all of the students from a single school, grade or class, the district was not able to reduce staff or close classes to help cover the charter tuition payments. If next year’s third grade class goes from 28 students to 26 students in a school, district officials still need to keep that third grade class open. They cannot pay that teacher 2/28th less, heat 2/28th less of that classroom, or reduce the operation of electricity in that classroom by 2/28th.

“Yet, if the class went from 28 to 26 students because two students enrolled in charters, the district needs to make tuition payments for the missing students. When those payments are repeated and distributed unevenly across schools and grades, it adds up to millions of dollars. Students move between districts all the time, but nowhere near the scale– nor with the fiscal impact – that takes place because of charter expansion. Bethlehem Area School District had 1,900 students, about 12 percent of the district’s population, enrolled in charter schools in 2017.”

This kind of fiscal drain is unsustainable. The vast majority of students are harmed so that 12% can go to charters. If it continues, the public schools will be irreparably damaged. This is not sound policy.