BOSTON – In a new special report commissioned by the Boston Foundation, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau dispels the notion that the growth of public charter schools has been the cause of budget shortfalls within the Boston Public Schools.
“In addition to being a longtime supporter of the BPS, the Boston Foundation also supports the growth of public charter schools,” said Boston Foundation President and CEO Paul Grogan. “We have been concerned that the conversation around raising the cap on public charter schools has been inundated with misinformation. The Boston Municipal Research Bureau has been a respected source of credible, independent information on city finances for decades, and their research is conclusive that the growth of public charter schools, schools that provide outstanding educational opportunities to mainly low-income Boston students, is not the driver of budgetary gaps within BPS.”
The report, titled, “The True Cost of Boston’s Charter Schools,” answers several questions that have emerged from the discussion around potential charter expansion and the structural gap in the BPS budget, finding that the real drivers of that gap are excess capacity across the district and growing personnel costs. In the current school year, Boston’s budgeted net school spending is $157.6 million above the net school spending required by the state to provide adequate education funding for Boston students. The report finds that despite growing costs to the City from charter seat expansion, the growth of the BPS budget has outpaced that of other city departments. And it concludes that the true drivers of budgetary gaps for the BPS are growing personnel costs and excess capacity across the district. In particular, the BPS has failed to reduce excess seats in a timely manner.
Other findings include:
- The BPS budget has increased by 25 percent over the last five years compared with 18.4 percent for the police and fire budgets combined and 12.7 percent for all other departments.
- During that same period, enrollment in the BPS has declined by 343 students.
- The average city expenditure for a BPS student is $561 more than for a charter school student in fiscal 2016.
- BPS requires that classrooms be 87 percent full to justify the cost of teachers, and where required, teacher’s aides. But in the SY2015-2016 budget, half of all BPS K5 classrooms did not meet the 87 percent funding threshold, requiring more resources to be added to meet contract requirements
In response to the perception of some people that charter schools are taking away state aid for Boston, Sam Tyler, President of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau said, “state Chapter 70 education aid distributed to Boston actually takes into account what is needed to adequately fund public education for all BPS students and all students living in Boston who attend charter schools.” “Thus, Chapter 70 funds are spent on Boston resident students for whom the City has an obligation to provide an adequate education, whether through the BPS or a charter school.”
The report does find that the growing charter tuition assessment has put a burden on the City’s overall General Fund budget, but has not yet led to a reduction in the BPS budget as a percentage of total city appropriations. Further, even if the charter cap isn’t raised, the city and BPS need to move beyond the conversation around excess facilities and take action to close the structural deficit in FY17.
While the Boston Foundation’s support for well run, high performing charter schools is essentially common knowledge, the Research Bureau is an independent, member-supported, non-partisan research organization, established in 1932 to provide objective and impartial research and policy analysis in order to promote more efficient, effective and responsible government for the City of Boston. The Research Bureau is concerned with significant issues of public policy and management affecting the City of Boston.
The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the largest community foundations in the nation, with net assets of some $1 billion. In 2015, the Foundation and its donors made more than $110 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of approximately $120 million. In celebration of its centennial in 2015, the Boston Foundation launched the Campaign for Boston to strengthen the Permanent Fund for Boston, Greater Boston’s only endowment fund supporting organizations focused on the most pressing needs of Greater Boston. The Foundation is proud to be a partner in philanthropy, with nearly 1,000 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.
The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener and sponsor of special initiatives that address the region’s most serious challenges. The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), an operating unit of the Foundation, designs and implements customized philanthropic strategies for families, foundations and corporations around the globe. For more information about the Boston Foundation and TPI, visit www.tbf.org or call 617-338-1700.