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Do charter schools take funding from public schools?

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

There are many misconceptions about charter schools in West Virginia, perhaps the most common is the statement that charter schools take funding from public schools. This is inaccurate, or at least misleading, for several reasons.


First, West Virginia charter schools are public schools under West Virginia law and so any allocation of funds from traditional public schools to public charter schools is essentially just moving funds inside the same public school system. A very similar movement of funds occurs when any new traditional public school opens that enrolls students who previously attended older traditional public schools.


Second, educational funds largely follow student enrollments, but so do educational costs. So any reduction of funds to a particular traditional public school caused by public charter enrollments would be accompanied by a similar reduction in costs to that traditional public school. Every student taught imposes instructional costs, administrative and transportation costs, maintenance costs, as well as wear and tear on school facilities. Because most traditional public schools operate at break even over the long term, the cost on a per student basis will tend to match the funding for each student on average. Public charter schools alleviate such costs approximately in proportion to the funding allocations.


Third, in certain situations where traditional public schools are facing inefficiencies caused by overcrowding, public charter schools can provide a tremendous benefit by alleviating enrollments freeing up the traditional public schools to function more efficiently and effectively.


Fourth, allocations of funds and costs from traditional public schools to public charter schools does not typically reduce teacher jobs because public charter schools must also hire teachers. The job function for a particular teacher may change based on the specific instructional design adopted by the public charter school, but the total number of teacher jobs in each county would likely not be impacted in any way.


Lastly, public charter schools cannot charge tuition or fees other than fees typically charged by traditional public schools. Public charter schools also must follow the same school attendance policies, provide the same amount of instructional time, and give the same student assessments as any other institution in the public school system. Public charter schools differ from traditional public schools primarily in the instructional design and methods, where public charter schools enjoy greater flexibility.


Can my child go to a public charter school? Not yet, West Virginia Public Charters aren’t allowed to open their doors until the Fall of 2021.


If you are excited to see a charter school open in your area, sign up for our mailing list so we can keep you informed of our progress and opportunities to get involved. Together we can increase the diversity in public school education.



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John Treu
John Treu
Jan 30, 2020

@Michael Osborne, I certainly agree that charter schools could provide a benefit to an area that is particularly disadvantaged if done correctly, but a sparsely populated area would need to convert a public school to a charter school and I don't believe any school board will take that risk unless they've seen a model that works in West Virginia. We have the right combination of student population, resources, and expertise in Morgantown to implement a public charter school without adversely impacting the existing public schools, which is why I believe this is the best place in West Virginia for a charter.

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Michael Osborne
Michael Osborne
Jan 29, 2020

Mr. Treu, thank you for the response! Just one more question, not really relevant to this blog post. Morgantown has two of the highest achieving high schools in the state. Given that your organization believes it will achieve great change in the lives of students, wouldn't it be better to open the school in a more disadvantaged area of the state?

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John Treu
John Treu
Jan 29, 2020

@Michael Osborne, I appreciate you providing input and raising your concerns. It's not clear to me how my argument suggests a school should be open ever few miles as that approach would clearly be cost prohibitive and is not something we are advocating. There's no question that there are certain fixed costs for any existing school, but the utilities and upkeep are not entirely fixed and depend to some extent on usage. Also, the law permits charter schools to rent space in any unused non-charter school buildings and even allows the county school board to convert an existing public school into a charter school. Thus, it is not a given that a charter school would result in vacancies in any…

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Michael Osborne
Michael Osborne
Jan 29, 2020

So, by your argument, we should open schools every few miles down the road? Having schools, that are designed to hold 500 students, with only 300 students enrolled will drain money from being used for educational purposes to fund the utilities and upkeep. Maybe your ideas work in theory, but this is the real world.

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