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(The Center Square) – An education research team is warning about the effects of proposed federal legislation targeting charter schools, which could directly impact New Orleans’ unique school district.

Nearly every public school in Orleans Parish is a charter school. The district converted from a traditional public school model after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and has since become a national focal point in education funding and student performance debates.

A new study from the University of Arkansas analyzes public school funding across 18 cities and found charter schools, on average, are underfunded compared with traditional public schools.

Charter schools also use a higher proportion of funding for student instruction, the study said, while relying almost exclusively on public resources. In contrast, traditional public schools often receive nonpublic funding in addition to government support.

The findings point to potentially devastating effects of a funding cut provision contained in U.S. House Resolution 4502, an Appropriations Committee bill that would eliminate all federal funding for public charter schools supported by for-profit organizations.

The proposed cut comes amid a $29 billion increase in U.S. Department of Education spending, bringing the department’s annual budget to a record $102.8 billion.

Study researchers determined the proposal could lead to a $1,131-per-pupil funding cut, on average, for charter school students depending on how the bill is interpreted.

“While this could be interpreted as only applying to Education Management Organizations, which are for-profit organizations that manage or operate a network of charter schools, it also has the possibility of a broader interpretation,” a statement accompanying the study said. "The bill could apply to any charter school contracting with a private company to deliver education, food, or transportation services to its students.”

New Orleans does not have for-profit charter schools, but given the legislation’s broader implications and the district’s unique circumstances, researchers calculated the city’s education losses could amount to nearly double the national average, or $2,048 per charter school student.

The reason, they said, is that “most federal funding of education is targeted to disadvantaged subgroups of students.”

NOLA Public Schools, the school district for Orleans Parish, said 83% of the district’s nearly 45,000 students are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and 90% are minorities.

“Policymakers have dug charter schools a big hole in terms of the underfunding of students who attend them. H.R. 4502 would dig the hole deeper; that’s what this analysis demonstrates,” said Patrick Wolf, co-author and professor at the University of Arkansas.

Wolf, along with the study’s five other authors, blamed charter school “myths” for creating an education environment where funding cuts could adversely affect vulnerable students.

“When we allow myths to drive the creation of education policy, such as the myth that funding for both charters and traditional public schools is directly tied to student need, we run the risk of passing legislation that negatively impacts our highest-need students in a very real way,” Wolf said.

Co-author Angela Dills, a professor at Western Carolina University, added, “Despite persistent myths about charter school funding and spending, the data provides a different picture.”

Teachers’ unions are among the most vocal opponents of charter schools, as most charters are non-unionized. Unions and other critics often point to the involvement of private entities as a reason for performance issues and for some traditional public school problems because of the diversion of education funds.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has opposed charter schools on the basis they compete for education “market share and tax dollars.” The United Teachers of New Orleans, an AFT affiliate, said the city’s “over investment” in charters has put “students, parents, teachers and taxpayers at risk of academic failures and financial fraud.”

The National Education Association (NEA) creates a distinction between privately managed schools and those that are under the direct authority of local boards.

“NEA opposes the failed experiment of largely unaccountable privately managed charter schools,” an NEA policy statement said. "NEA supports nonprofit public charter schools that are authorized and held accountable by local democratically elected school boards.”

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