The Wisconsin Policy Forum has released a new comprehensive study of charter school funding in Milwaukee. The Forum’s study: A Teachable Moment, understanding the complexities of charter school financing in Milwaukee, contains a wealth of data and insights into the growing independent charter school sector and how it interacts within the overall Milwaukee education landscape.
View several key takeaways that MMAC believes can help start a much-needed discussion on substantive policy changes needed to improve educational performance for all children in Milwaukee:
Independent Charter schools are public schools.
In MPS, independent charter schools are called Non-Instrumentality Schools (NIC’s). NIC’s are authorized by the MPS school board under a under a contract that requires the charter school to provide all services typically provided by a district including financial management, HR, talent recruitment, communications, legal compliance, etc. The schools have freedom to develop their mission, educational program, organizational structure, staff, and budgeting. As public schools they cannot charge tuition, are required to be non-sectarian, adhere to authorizer rules; and be subject to federal laws governing civil rights, discrimination and labor standards; follow state law covering instructional staff licensing.
Parents are choosing independent charter schools in MPS.
7,315 students attended independent charter schools in MPS last year, that represents a 250% increase in enrollment since 2010. At the same time enrollment in MPS traditional schools has declined 15%. Charter schools have been a positive addition to schooling options in MPS.
Independent Charter Schools benefit MPS financially.
Using just MPS’s base operating revenue (per pupil revenue limit, plus per pupil categorical aid) independent charter school enrollment brought in $77M. After making per pupil payments to independent charter schools in MPS, the district netted $16M. In addition, the district received additional federal funding, and state categorical aid based on this student population. MPS also avoids a variety of costs that it would otherwise incur if their independent charter schools were district schools, as charter employees are not district employees. MPS does not have to recruit, hire, and provide HR and other services to charter teachers. Additionally, MPS does not accrue long term retirement/pension and health care legacy costs associated with charter staff. Filling existing facilities with charter operators also reduces MPS maintenance costs. Many students choosing an independent charter school were not previously attending a district school. Without a compelling charter school option, parents may make and have made choices to move to non-district schools.
The resulting financial impact on the district could be significant:
Students choosing other non-MPS school Revenue lost
100% $77 million
75% $58 million
50% $39 million
25% $19 million
Funding for independent charter school students is inequitable.
Each student in MPS including each independent charter school student included in MPS count generates $10,572 in state and local taxpayer funding for MPS. However, independent charter schools in the district receive on average $8,220 of this per student funding leaving these schools to operate with 22% less revenue.
Charter school contracts lack transparency.
MPS contracts with its NIC Schools (independent public charter operators) are neither uniform, nor transparent. There is not a clear public presentation of direct and central school costs including administrative, infrastructure, and legacy. This lack of transparency makes it difficult align administrative fees to the costs for all schools, including independent charters.
MMAC POlicy options/recommendations