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New Annual Report Discloses Per Student Charter School Funding

With nearly half of all state funds in Utah’s budget going towards public education, each year your Taxpayers Association
scrutinizes all of Utah’s school districts to determine per pupil expenditures.

However, not all of that amount goes towards district schools. Roughly 73,000 students, about 11% of the total student population, enrolls in charter schools. For the first time, your Taxpayers Association reports on the spending of 112 of Utah’s charter schools to make comparisons between how districts spend tax dollars, and how charter schools spend money that is appropriated to them.

For an in-depth dive as to charter school funding, founding, and their history, please check out October’s My Corner, in our monthly newsletter.

Briefly, charter schools are funded based on the principle that allows state funds to follow the student. If a student opts to attend a charter school, a portion of the money allocated to that student follows him/her, while leaving some remaining funding for the district that the student moved from.

While districts can impose property tax levies on taxpayers within its boundary, a charter school cannot. Therefore, the
majority of charter school funding comes from state income tax dollars.

Due to the nature of charter schools, some building costs and facility maintenance are accounted for in areas that may not accurately reflect the budget category within the data.

The National Center for Education Statistics, which forms the basis for the Utah uniform chart of accounts, permits LEAs to account for property acquisition and leases of real property in the general fund.

While districts and some charter schools have accounted for capital expenses in the capital outlay fund, other charter schools have accounted for it in the general fund. As such, some charter schools O&M expenses as the source data reports them may exceed expected norms of other LEAs.

In addition, some charter schools are not included in the data provided on the report. Six charter schools are not included in our calculation due to either being in the process of opening or closing during the 2016-2017 school year. District schools spent $869 more per pupil on direct instructional expense than charters in FY2017. Charters spent $3,683 per pupil on instructional expenses, which are costs directly related in the education of students. This would include teacher salaries and classroom expenses.

Charters spent, on average, $800 less on general fund expenses, and more than $1,200 less than districts, when facilities and school lunch programs are factored in.

However, due to some accounting methods by charter administrators, lease payments for facilities and other construction and building maintenance are accounted for in the O&M category. This could lead to the skewing of some charters in this category. Generally, any O&M per pupil expenses over $1,000 would be due to this
accounting method.

For example, Hawthorne Academy spent $8,886 in O&M, while the average is $774. This massive discrepancy is due to that charter accounting for facility construction in this category.

Charter schools often will rent out existing structure and convert them into schools, which explains how many charters spend no money in facility construction. As mentioned before, many charters do charge leasing payments under the O&M category, but others do opt to build a brand new facility. For example, Soldier Hollow Charter School spent $14,206 per student on new construction, where the charter average is $654. Traditional school districts spent $1,288 on construction by
comparison.

Charter schools also spent more on administrative costs than districts by more than $200, for a per pupil average of $986, compared to $752 for districts. However, administrator salaries are in line with the districts, averaging 179% of the average teacher salary.

Teacher salaries at charter schools tend to be lower than a district, with the FY17 average being $41,023. Districts pay more than $8,000 than that total on average. Teacher salaries at charter schools range from $30,686 (Franklin Discovery) to $56,202 (Weber State University Charter School).

Charters also tend to have a higher student to teacher ratio. Charters have an average of 22.1 students per teacher, whereas districts average 19.8.

Charter schools, by nature, operate differently than district schools. While some focus on certain subjects (such as arts or technology), other experiment in varied teaching methods, while others operate entirely online. However, our Charter Spending Report does give a snapshot as to what each charter is spending, and compares that to a district average.

F2018 Charter Spending Report


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