CRPE Briefs Distort the Debates about the Fiscal Impact of California Charter Schools on School Districts

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Key New NEPC Review Takeaway: Despite usefulness in pointing to some important issues that policymakers should consider, briefs’ analyses of those issues are superficial and misleading.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), based at the University of Washington, Bothell, recently released a series of three policy briefs on the financial impact of charter schools on nearby school districts in California. The briefs are intended to inform ongoing debates over charter school financing and expansion in the state of California.

After reviewing all three, Professor Bruce D. Baker of Rutgers University found that they failed to accurately or fully apply the relevant research and data. The resulting briefs, while raising and attempting to address important issues, erroneously minimize the likely fiscal impacts of charter growth.

The first brief, Charter Schools and District Enrollment, attempts to minimize the import of the considerable role played by charters in districts’ enrollment loss, offering up the non sequitur that enrollment loss can arise from other sources as well. The brief’s assertion that charter enrollment growth bears little blame for district enrollment decline is not correct. It is, and has been for some time—whether in districts with declining, stable, or growing overall student enrollments.

The second brief, Do Charter Schools Cause Fiscal Distress in School Districts, contends that serious fiscal problems in school districts is most often caused by financial mismanagement and has no relationship with charter enrollment share. The brief relies on overly simplistic comparisons of charter enrollments and county-assigned “fiscal distress” classifications to conclude that there is no association between charter enrollments and fiscal distress. The contention here is that there can’t be an illness if the patient isn’t dead. In order to rely on this problematic approach, the brief erroneously dismisses a significant, more rigorous, detailed, peer-reviewed, and published body of research that illustrates the fiscal impact of charter schools on host districts, and how those fiscal impacts may lead to fiscal stress.

The third brief, Do the Costs of California Charter Schools Outweigh the Benefits, presents itself as an analysis of costs and benefits. But it merely touts the benefits of charter schooling as tangible while being entirely dismissive of numerous known and often measurable costs.

Taken together, the briefs are useful only in pointing to some important issues that policymakers should consider; their analyses of those issues are, however, generally superficial and misleading.

Find the review, by Bruce D. Baker, at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/ca-charters

All three briefs were authored by Robin Lake, Ashley Jochim, Paul Hill, and Sivan Tuchman and published by CRPE. Find Charter Schools and District Enrollment Loss at:
https://www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/charter_schools_and_district_enrollment_loss_0.pdf

Find Do Charter Schools Cause Fiscal Distress in School Districts at:
https://www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/do_charter_schools_cause_fiscal_distress.pdf

Find Do the Costs of California Charter Schools Outweigh the Benefits at:
https://www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/do_costs_of_ca_charter_schools_outweigh_benefits_0.pdf

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: https://nepc.colorado.edu

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William J. Mathis

Bruce D. Baker
Rutgers University
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