Study: Philanthropy Can’t Close Charter, Public School Funding Gap


A first-of-its-kind study from the University of Arkansas on K-12 education funding discovered that while billions are offered to public schools through non-public sources, the additional funding is unable to close the funding gap that exists between traditional and public charter schools.  In fact, the gap becomes widened in many cases.

The study, “Non-Public Revenue in Public Charter and Traditional Public Schools,” analyzed charter school sectors in 15 states, finding that on average, traditional public schools gain around $6.4 billion, while charters receive $379 million in non-public revenues.  However, even when philanthropy is included, traditional public schools were still found to have about $2,700 more in per-pupil spending than charter schools.

“The source of disparity in funding continues to remain a largely uninformed public policy issue. Traditional public schools reap the benefit of larger account balances that generate more investment income than charter schools can generate,” said Larry Maloney, lead researcher of the University of Arkansas team. “Since charter schools receive less overall funding from public sources, more of their funding must be used in any given year.”

“Significant changes will have to be made in the school funding laws in many states since private philanthropy alone can’t close the funding gap between traditional public schools and public charter schools in the U.S., contrary to widespread perception,” Maloney added.

In all, 12 of the 15 states included in the study were found to have $370 more per-pupil funding in non-public revenue for charter schools than traditional public schools.  In addition, philanthropy was found to not have been equally distributed across charter schools in each state.  For example, research found that 45% of students at charter schools in Texas received over 99.2% of such funding.

Further research found that 34% of all charter schools used for the study reported receiving no philanthropic support at all, while 90% of charter school philanthropy was geared toward schools that enrolled only about one-third of charter school students in all 15 states.

Meanwhile, traditional public schools were found to get most of their non-public revenue from food service and investment, with only about 5% of funding coming from philanthropic efforts.  At least half of all funding for charter schools was found to come from philanthropy.  Despite this, they were found to account for only 2.5% of total charter revenues.

 “Our results contradict the conventional wisdom that philanthropic contributions to charter schools offset public funding inequities,” said Patrick J. Wolf, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and Chair in School Choice at the Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas. “Building on the 2014 national findings, non-public revenue in general does not allow the public charter school sector to close the overall revenue gap with traditional public schools. In some cases, it makes the gap larger.”