OAKLAND (CBS SF) – A report released Tuesday says that charter schools cost the Oakland Unified School District $57.3 million in funding every year that otherwise could be used to reduce class sizes and have more core services such as counseling and libraries.

Speaking at a news conference at Castlemont High School in East Oakland, University of Oregon political scientist and professor Gordon Lafer, who led the study, said, “Our analysis shows that the continued expansion of charter schools has steadily drained money away from school districts and concentrated high-needs students in neighborhood public schools.”

Lafer said, “The high costs of charter schools have led to decreases in neighborhood public schools in counseling, libraries, music and art programs, lab sciences, field trips, reading tutors, special education funding, and even the most basic supplies like toilet paper.”

The study, called “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts,” was commissioned by In The Public Interest, an Oakland-based think tank that seeks the best use of public funds in providing goods and services.

Lafer said the study also examined the cost of charter schools in the East Side Union High School District in the San Jose area and the San Diego Unified School District and found that they cost East Side $19.3 million a year and San Diego $65.9 million annually.

Lafer said the report is not anti-charter schools, but he said, “We need to keep our eyes open and make a full accounting of all the costs” associated with such schools.

He said the number of California charter schools has increased by more than 900 percent to more than 1,200 schools over the last two decades and Oakland has the highest concentration of charter schools in the state, with 30 percent of its students enrolled in them.

Lafer said if Oakland wasn’t losing $57 million a year to charter schools it could reduce class sizes to 18 students in all of its elementary schools, double the number of nurses and guidance counselors and still have money left over.

The report proposes changing the California Charter Schools Act, which currently doesn’t allow school boards to consider how charter schools might impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health when weighing new charter applications.

Lafer said, “We can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend there’s no cost.”

Joining Lafer at the news conference, Oakland schools Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel said the information in the report is an important tool in helping the district plan its future.

Johnson-Trammel said, “We don’t want to take an anti-charter school stance, but this will help us make better decisions for using our limited funds.”

She said the important thing is to ensure that all schools in Oakland are of high quality.

Jasmene Miranda, a teacher at Fremont High School in Oakland, said the report’s findings “are not surprising.”

Miranda said money lost to charter schools means, “We lose funding and teachers and other services.”

Eric Hanushek, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford who has studied charter schools for many years, said the study’s examination of the long-term costs of charter schools “is not in the right ballpark.”

Hanushek said school districts such as Oakland lose revenues when students move to charter schools but he said their expenses should also decrease so the pluses and minuses should equal out in the long run.

Hanushek said school districts have to get smaller if more students go to charter schools but he said he thinks many districts “want more money” and don’t want to make many cuts.

He said the report “has no discussion about how to do a better job of providing a high-quality education for students.”

Hanushek said, “People are leaving public schools because they’re dissatisfied with the services they’re providing and they want better schools.”

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Comments (5)
  1. jim2812 says:

    Hanushek is a privately managed charter school apologist. What he is distorting is the idea that a public school district can just get smaller have lower costs. Drain of students does not mean lower costs because students are not taken from one class but leave across a district and districts are stuck with fixed costs. $57 million is a loss that is felt across a district meaning cuts in programs for students that remain in the district. Meanwhile, Prop 39 requires space that becomes available must be provided to charter school students. Placing outside group at local school creates tensions over use of shared space and in and out group conflict.

    Privately managed charter schools have a different interest than public schools that serve a public interest. Privately managed charter have a private interest. Overall charters financed by the public are no better than public schools. The competition between the public and private has not increased a better schools system as promised but a competition that is harmful to both public students and privately managed students. Only millions lost to public schools brings the most harm to public schools.

    Mohammad Mordecai