Utah’s Charter Schools: Comparisons and Funding Equity with District Schools

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This report focuses on charter school finance, with an eye toward equity. To set a framework for that discussion, the report first explains what charter schools are, provides a short history, and looks at the rising ubiquity of charter schools across urban Utah. The report then shows that districts and charter schools are funded differently – due in large part to charter schools’ lack of taxing authority. The report concludes by examining charter schools’ different purposes and types of accountability, ultimately noting that equity in funding may be a great goal. However, given the vast differences between the systems, it would be difficult to ever definitively conclude that they are equitable.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • Utah has seen high growth in charter schools students, with half of 2015’s student body growth in charter schools (see page 3).
  • The per-pupil education funding gap has narrowed since 2004, from 13.9% to 9.9% today (see page 8).
  • The funding gap is due in part to charter schools serving a narrower subset of the population and offering more targeted programming (see pages 3-7).
  • Utah’s innovative “moral obligation,” start-up, and revolving loan programs are providing cost savings and necessary funding to new charter schools (see page 15).
  • Districts spend four times the amount that charter schools spend on transportation, though this is due to a mandate put upon districts (see page 16).
  • Senate Bill 38 is expected to result in an increase per charter school student of $193, decreasing the charter/district per-pupil difference by more than 25% (see pages 19-20).
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