Education

Report: Atlanta Charter Schools Give A Bigger ‘Bang’ For The Bucks

A new study found that while charter schools received less money than traditional schools, they had higher overall test scores. 
A new study found that while charter schools received less money than traditional schools, they had higher overall test scores. 
Credit Alvin Trusty/Flickr

New research from the University of Arkansas shows charter schools in eight cities, including Atlanta, produce better results than traditional public schools with less money.

The study examined how charters were funded in 2013-14 and how they performed on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam that year. The results showed that while charters received less money than traditional schools, they had higher overall test scores.

In Atlanta, the difference was narrower than most other cities in the report. Charter schools in APS received $1,939 less per pupil than traditional schools. However, they performed only slightly better on NAEP math and reading assessments.

Patrick J. Wolf, distinguished professor of education policy and endowed chair in school choice at the University of Arkansas, conducted the study. He said increased funding could help Atlanta charter schools improve their scores.

“Most of the greater productivity we’re seeing is coming from the lower funding, not from dramatically higher performance,” Wolf says. “So, that does suggest with more resources, the charter sector in Atlanta could potentially produce even better achievement outcomes for students.”

What is a charter school?
Charter schools are public schools that operate on a contract (charter). They usually have their own board of directors and can accept private donations. Charters can be exempt from some state regulations, but in return, they need to produce good results. Schools that don’t meet the terms of their charters can be closed at the end of the contract length.

Georgia law requires state and local municipalities to fund charters like other public schools. However, Georgia’s school funding formula is weighted. So, some school characteristics receive more ‘weight’ (eventually money) than others. For example, schools receive higher weights for features like experienced teachers, special education programs, and classes for English Language Learners. Charter schools generally tend to hire newer teachers and have fewer special services.

Wolf says Atlanta’s charter schools have been able to make up some of the difference, thanks to donations.

“That brought Atlanta charters close to traditional public schools in funding, but still below them, and long-term you can’t really count on philanthropy to make up that big a funding gap,” he says.

Charter schools advocates have long-pushed for increased funding. Critics have complained that would drain money from other public schools. Lawmakers haven’t introduced legislation this year to change the state’s school funding formula.

A note of disclosure: The Atlanta Board of Education holds WABE’s broadcast license.