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New York City charter schools may be in for a major budget boost, according to a new report from the city’s Independent Budget Office, one that puts New York City taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.
The city Department of Education’s budget for charter school funding in 2018 represents an increase of $138 million over current levels, but according to the IBO, that number could rise to as much as $274 million for next school year.
Funding for charter schools is determined by a formula codified in state law, and has twice been frozen, causing spending for charter schools to lag behind that of district schools despite overall increases in education spending. In 2014, the state legislature set charter school tuition at $13,527 per student, plus a supplement of $500 this year, sending a total of $14,027 per student to city charter schools. The 2014 act expires this year, which means the tuition formula would shift to determine the new funding amount by multiplying the city’s district school spending in 2015-2016 by the percentage growth of the state’s total education spending over the last three years.
The IBO used three estimates of said growth to calculate its projections after the formula changes — spending for charter schools increases substantially on the city’s dime under each one. Mayor Bill de Blasio has long battled with the city’s charter school representatives over taxpayer’s fiscal responsibility to the schools, which are partly run using public dollars but privately managed.
Currently, charter schools in the five boroughs receive over $1.7 billion from the city DOE’s budget, used to educate over 100,000 students — a small fraction of the city’s over one million public school students. And while it’s true that charter schools have traditionally received less per-pupil funding than their district counterparts (and their funding has increased more slowly, due to tuition allocation freezes in 2009 and 2013), it’s also true that the DOE provides “non-cash resources” to the schools, which tacks on an additional $4,904 per student at charters located in DOE buildings (for schools who receive lease reimbursement and those with none, the numbers are $3,993 and $1,188 per student, respectively). This includes books, materials, transportation, food, and, in some cases, rent-free building space (or lease reimbursements). Charter schools also receive supplementary funding for special needs students, and are eligible for private funding.
When IBO accounted for charter schools that receive rent-free building space in existing DOE schools, per-pupil funding rises to $18,933 per student this school year, narrowing the disparity with district schools to a difference of 5.7 percent; traditional public schools got $20,078. The disparity is larger for a small number of charter schools that receive lease reimbursement for private space, and those who do not receive any public assistance for building space—these schools got up to 24 percent less money than district schools. Private funding to charter schools varies widely, with some major chains with hefty financial backers, while other “mom and pop” schools rely primarily on DOE funding.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, a charter school ally who has in the past received large donations from charter school supporters, most recently a $65,000 donation from the pro-charter school, Wal-Mart backed group New York Campaign for Achievement Now, has proposed to keep the supplemental funding but would shift responsibility from the state onto the city, to the tune of an additional $54 million, which is included in IBO’s estimated city tax burden. Earlier this year, he proposed lifting the city’s charter school cap, which restricts the number of new schools allowed to open each year (Mayor de Blasio is a staunch supporter of the cap).
The IBO report comes just days after President Donald Trump’s “America First” budget proposed deep cuts in federal public education spending, partly to help fund a $1.4 billion voucher program, which lets parents use public tax dollars to send their children to private schools.