APS – Traditional and Charter School Funding

A review of FY15 traditional and charter school funding – disparity in favor of traditional schools still exists
With the release of the Atlanta Public School FY15 preliminary budget, it became clear that funding for charter schools would increase significantly as compared to last year. The current budget anticipates that the charter schools will receive approximately $71 million, or a $25.4 million increase over FY14. As charter school funding is often controversial – from both sides of the issue – a brief analysis of the spending will help clarify many of the issues regarding the funding for FY15. The data for the traditional and charter school funding in the chart below (click to enlarge). As you review the data, keep in mind the following key points:

  1. Charter school enrollment is up nearly 1,900 students in FY15 due to the conversion of Centennial Elementary, the opening of the Atlanta Classical Academy and the expansion of a number of existing charter schools.
  2. “Local Revenues”, which are the primary source of charter school funding, are up by approximately $39 million over FY14.

FY15 Per student spending 032114

Let’s start by looking at what is happening to traditional school funding in the top section of the chart. I have adjusted the total FY15 expenditures to remove charter school funding; any usage of General Fund reserves as the charter schools do not participate in them; and the pension liability as this expenditure does not benefit any student within the APS system.

After adjustment the spending on traditional schools remained level in FY13 and FY14 and then grew by approximately $35 million in FY15. And while expenditures were increasing in FY15, the projected traditional school student enrollment is declining by 875 students – this is consistent with the trend for the last several years. As a result of higher expenditures and lower student enrollment, the traditional school “per student spending” (PSS) is up $1,032 or 9.5% over FY14.

Now to the charter schools – as noted above, enrollment is up and the charter schools will also share in the increased local revenues. Based on a simple rate/volume analysis, $16.3 million (64.3%) of the $25.4 million increase in charter school funding is related to the higher student enrollment. The remaining $9.1 million balance of the increase is related to the higher local revenues.

The increase in charter school funding results in an increase in the “per student spending” for charter school students as well. In FY15, the “per student spending” is $9,937 as compared to approximately $8,642 in FY14. Please note that APS charges the charter schools a 2% administrative fee and this amount has been netted out of the calculation above.

As the numbers show – when comparing ”apples to apples” spending, there is a substantial differential in the “per student spending” between the traditional and charter schools. And, as I have noted here on several occasions in the past, the differential is in favor of the traditional schools by nearly $2 thousand per student.

I anticipate that the standard arguments will be made as in the past – “charter schools are taking funds away from traditional schools” and “charter schools students are receiving more per student than traditional schools”. The “per student spending” numbers above completely debunk both of these arguments.

Regardless of what your position is on charter schools, I hope that you will keep these facts in mind as you press your position forward.

Robert Stockwell is the financial watchdog for APS and posts at Financial Deconstruction


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