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Students Flee, but the Money Keeps Coming. How public school systems fleece the public?

In major cities, there are generally five students who wish to attend Charter schools for every opening. Why? Duh!


What do the parents and kids know? The Teacher's Unions know what's best for us. That's why I'm hoping Chicago's new Mayor is a stooge whose campaign was 90% funded by the Chicago's Teachers Union. Go, Johnson! Plus he's a defund the police guy. A double whammy of a guy.


Students Flee, but the Money Keeps Coming

An argument against educational choice falls apart when you follow where the funding goes.

By Jeanne Allen, WSJ

March 29, 2023 12:10 pm ET


Opponents of educational choice programs often complain that they divert money from public schools. Proponents say that’s good—that the fear of losing funds gives district schools an incentive to improve. In reality, a practice called phantom funding often gives failing schools money for students who don’t attend.


In Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, the practice is called “hold harmless.” The state funds districts based on the previous year’s enrollment, regardless of how many students are enrolled at budget time. Before Covid, such provisions were in permanent effect in at least 12 states. The National School Boards Association reports that many more states adopted such policies temporarily to mitigate revenue losses from pandemic shutdowns.


In a 2022 audit, the school district of Philadelphia reported $2.9 billion in education funding, slightly more after inflation than in the previous year, even though enrollment had declined 2%. Spending was up $798 million since 2016, when the district had 16,000 more students and 3,000 fewer staff members.


Choice opponents also claim money is the key to better schools. So why isn’t a windfall of per-pupil money helping? The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Strawberry Mansion High School has seen enrollment plummet 88% since 2002. The district’s allocation for 437 students was more than $6 million in fiscal 2016, and nearly the same in 2020, when enrollment had declined more than 50% to 203. According to state data, only 9% of Strawberry Mansion students were proficient in reading and 2% in math in the 2018-19 school year, before the pandemic. The district as a whole? Its scores have declined since 2013 by between 10% and 20% depending on the grade and subject.


In Boston over the past five years, public-school enrollment declined by 14%, and 18% for black students, many of whom have moved to charter schools. The state pays districts phantom funding of 100%, 60% and 40%, respectively, for the three years after students depart.


In fiscal 2024, Massachusetts will direct $268 million to charter schools serving 10,558 students. Boston public schools will receive $45 million in phantom funding to make up for the loss of those students. In 2019, Boston reading and math scores fell to their lowest point since 2011, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.


In many states, students who switch from public schools don’t bring all their funding with them. Instead, they typically enroll in other schools with only a portion of what is spent on district students. In Philadelphia, the district retains $10,000 for every student who goes to a charter school. In Pinellas County, Fla., when a student uses his $7,000 empowerment scholarship on a private alternative, $11,000 stays in the district. So in addition to districts being “held harmless” when students depart, and getting reimbursed for the slice of funding they would otherwise lose when students leave, some are holding on to funding that should follow students to their new school.


To be sure, some school-district costs are fixed. But buildings, contracts, people and pensions aren’t all calibrated on a per-student dollar. And if your clientele is fleeing, those services should be re-evaluated. But when districts have more funds, education doesn’t improve. Instead, systems become bloated, unresponsive and ineffective, which is why parents are pulling their children from traditional public schools.


Rather than “holding schools harmless” when students choose to leave, or double-counting students to generate more money for school systems, we should take all the money dedicated to education, divide it by the number of students—living, breathing students—and give each the same amount.


Ms. Allen is founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform and director of the Yass Foundation for Education.

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