APS & Charter School “Per Student Spending”

Recently I was asked the question – “Why does APS spend in the neighborhood of $14,000 per student and only funds Charter Schools at a $9,000 level per student? What are the differences?” The Chart below begins to shed some light on the differences in “Spending Per Student” by type of expenditure.

APS vs Charter Per Student Spending

A couple of comments to help explain the differences:

  1. The $14k noted in the question includes APS spending of Federal funds (primarily Title I and Nutrition) and SPLOST funds that are not allocated to Charter Schools. Accordingly, these amounts are left out of this analysis and the appropriate comparison is between APS General Fund per student spending and the amount APS funds to Charter Schools on a per student basis.
  2. APS spends $9,037 per student on the core functions of Direct Instruction, School Administration and Operations. This amount is $142 higher per student than the $8,895 spent per Charter School student. I believe the primary difference is attributable to the additional “local revenues” available to APS that are not allocable to the Charter Schools (E-Rate, Tuition charges, investment interest, etc.).
  3. There are two items that the Charter Schools do not incur, but APS does – Transportation costs and payment on the unfunded Pension liability. These costs amount to $1,310 per APS student.
  4. The biggest difference is the APS spending on General Administration – $1,247 per student. These types of costs are not funded for Charter Schools and the Charters must find ways to fund it on their own.

Based on this analysis, a couple of questions come to mind:

  1. Why is the cost of General Administration for Charter Schools not funded?
    The answer lies in the mechanisms used for State QBE funding and subsequent allocation of “local revenues” which is derived from the State QBE calculation. In short, the QBE does not take into consideration the General Administration expenditures as part of the methodology used.
  2. Is it equitable that local taxpayers must fund the cost of General Administration for APS, but that Charter Schools (which are also public schools) are on their own to fund this expenditure?
    My answer would be no. If the APS Board of Education has determined that it should spend $1,310 per student on General Administration (or over $57 million in the FY13 Approved Budget) then it should allocate a similar per student amount to the Charter Schools for the costs they also incur for these functions. If they did, the additional funds that would flow to the Charter Schools would amount to $6.5 million.

    Anyone want to take a guess as to which system would put the funding to better use? You know the answer.

4 Responses to APS & Charter School “Per Student Spending”

  1. Jason says:

    I confused by your statement that charters do not incur pension liability costs – and, subsequently wonder if your numbers are correct. Isn’t APS currently withholding money from charters for pensions? Isn’t that what the lawsuit is about?

    • Jason – your questions go to a critical issue and one that the public is very confused about. It is sufficiently important that I will provide an answer in a new blog post in the next couple of hours. Thanks. Bob

  2. Rebecca Hudson says:

    Thanks for all your work to clarify things for us. Just a few thoughts….

    Charter schools don’t receive transportation funding but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t. Charter school students can’t ride buses to school because APS won’t fund it and the Charter’s operational budgets won’t support it.

    APS also doesn’t provide any maintenance or capital expense funding for charters. That means things like building improvements, custodians, textbooks, and technology must be funded using operational funds. The same is also true of things like nutrition. (School lunch programs seem to always lose money.)

    I would have put the legal formula in for the charter school’s share and then taken out the per student share of the pension funding in your figures rather than leave that as a “-” since until the lawsuit is settled sometime next year, the charters are having to do without that $2.8 million.

    Another big issue, the amount of money the charters receive is based on projected budget numbers, yet when the system collects more or receives a windfall from E-rate or tax collections are greater than projected, charters do not receive any of that money since the APS Board doesn’t adopt a new budget. That money just “disappears” into the general fund and increases the per pupil spending for that fiscal year. (The one time tax collections fell short, the Board adopted a new budget and the charters received less.)

    • Rebecca – thanks for the very thoughtful and insightful comment. Without going into the specifics on each of the items you list, I agree with you that the funding mechanism for Charter Schools should be more equitable. The “local revenues” allocation should include all taxpayer dollars (including SPLOST) and “Per Student Spending” should be consistent across the system (subject to certain weightings for different costs associated with different types of students – special needs, grammar school, high school, etc.). Each school can then decide to what purpose the allocated funds will be used (including transportation if the Charter School considers it important). I also agree that there should be a year end “accounting” that trues up the spending based on actual tax payer receipts for the fiscal year – although this can cut both ways. Bob

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