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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