Cost analysis questions wisdom of opening more charter schools

December 19, 2013

Flickr/Melinda Shelton

A new cost analysis questions the wisdom of opening more charter schools in Chicago.

The analysis, calculated by Communities United for Quality Education (CUQE), finds that approving all 21 charter schools that have applied to open would cost Chicago $21 million dollars the first year and $225 million over the next decade.

The analysis factors in only basic school operating costs, such as a principal and utilities costs—it doesn’t include any of the “per pupil” funding schools get for enrolling students.

Parent Maria Elena Sifuentes, a member of the activist group that put out the study, pointed out that Chicago just closed 50 schools, and says budget cuts hit remaining schools hard. “Now they want to turn around and hand over 250 million dollars to new charter schools in the same communities where schools were closed or had their budget cuts.”

The CUQE analysis uses the same basic logic Chicago Public Schools used to close schools: it argues that the more schools there are, the more thinly the district’s resources are spread out across them.

“When a new charter is brought to a community, taxpayers are paying for two principals’ salaries, two building utilities fees, and other costs twice to serve the same number of students within a community. These increased investments could either be avoided all together, or could be invested in improving existing neighborhood schools,” the report concludes.

The analysis was conducted by Demian Kogan, an organizer at the Albany Park Neighborhood Council.

CUQE openly opposes charter schools. But a recent report by Moody’s Investors Service raises similar concerns. It says charter growth is putting some districts under financial stress because the districts are operating more schools than they need. It argues that labor contracts and political pressure mean school districts are not able to contract fast enough as they shift more of their students to charters.

Board member Mahalia Hines said at Wednesday’s board meeting that opening charters is not meant to hurt other schools.

“Constantly we hear that we are creating charter schools to destroy neighborhood schools, and I know that is definitely not the intent.  We want good schools in all neighborhoods,” Hines said.

CUQE is calling for the board of education to reject all charter proposals in January, and for the city’s new Office of Financial Analysis to review the financial implications of Chicago charter expansion.

Linda Luttton is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation.