In cities across the country, charter schools have become known for anxiety-fueled lotteries, bitter disputes over sharing buildings with traditional schools, and teaching methods that are sometimes unorthodox. But in California, as well as some other states, charter schools have increasingly become associated with something more basic yet elusive: money. In a state besieged by budget cuts and where per-pupil spending is among the lowest in the nation, dozens of schools converted to charters in the 1990s and 2000s in search of a funding boost.
Across the country, charter schools have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal startup grants. And in California, up until this year, all charters were given the state’s average per-pupil allotment; that meant schools located in districts with below-average funding could receive additional money by chartering.
Moreover, two years ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District increased the percentage of low-income students schools needed to qualify for a federal aid program known as Title I, prompting another wave of schools to leave the traditional sector. As charters, they could keep access to the Title 1 funds even with lower percentages of low-income students. <Read more.>