Do Charter Schools Hurt Students in Traditional Schools?

By Christine Ries

A comprehensive mathematical analysis of Georgia public school funding models has found local school systems that enroll nearly nine-out-of-ten public school students would experience increased resources when a student transfers to a new or existing state charter school.  This model is based on funding levels approved in 2012 by the Georgia General Assembly.

Christine P. Ries, Professor of Economics, Georgia Tech

Analyzing revenue and expenditures, Georgia Tech professor of economics Christine P. Ries based her calculations on the funding formula that would be used if voters approve Georgia Constitutional Amendment 1 on Tuesday, November 6.  Ries concluded that most of Georgia’s 180 local school systems enrolling 89 percent of all students statewide would gain rather than lose funds when students transfer to state charter schools.

This analysis challenges the popular theory that families moving to state charter schools would drain resources from traditional public schools.  Georgia has 159 county and 21 city school systems that collectively enroll about 1.64 million students.

“In 129 of Georgia’s 180 school districts the cost savings exceeded the projected loss in revenue,” said Ries.  “These districts account for 1.4 million students.  Thus, for 89 percent of Georgia’s children, charter schools mean an opportunity for choice for those who transfer out and increases financial resources for those who remain in the regular district public schools.”

Ries said the average gain would be $1,218 in each of the 129 districts that would gain dollars when a student transfers.  The average loss would be $800 in the handful of districts that could expect a budget shortfall.  Atlanta Public Schools would gain the most, $6,507 for each student that transfers, and the Pelham City School District would lose the most, $2,352 per student.

“When a child leaves, either to go to a public school or for another district, the system loses some funding (depending on state and local laws),” Ries says in the report.  “But the system’s expenses also fall because they have fewer children to educate.  If the school or district’s ability to adjust and reduce expenses is greater than the loss of revenue, the system will actually gain financially when a child leaves.  Just as schools and systems adjust when a child moves out of the district, they can also adjust when a child moves to a public charter school.”