West Virginia Charter Schools Improve School Level Funding by Curtailing Administrative Bloat
Updated: Mar 3, 2020
Charter schools are commonly, and inaccurately, criticized for taking funding from public schools and, by extension, public school classrooms and teachers. These characterizations are false and are being promoted by individuals who have improperly benefited for decades from excessive administrative waste in West Virginia’s public system. The reality is that the West Virginia charter school law is designed to improve education by significantly increasing funding at the school level compared to current practices of West Virginia school districts. Because public charter schools dramatically curtail wasteful spending on administrative bloat in favor of school level spending, charter schools are the most direct path forward to achieving higher pay for public school teachers, improved teacher incentives, and greater deployment of resources at the school level. This is all done without reducing a single dollar of funding from the overall public system.
The new charter law and regulations require school districts to allocate 90% of the per pupil funding—called the total basic foundation allowance—to the charter school for school level expenditures after taking out only certain limited direct expenses (see W. Va. Code § 18-5G-5(a)). This approach dedicates a substantially higher percentage of funding at the school level compared to past practices in West Virginia. For example, the average per pupil spending in West Virginia in 2019 was $12,244 according to the West Virginia Department of Education’s balanced scorecard. This level of spending places West Virginia at about the national average and approximately on par with the per student spending in Virginia. However, West Virginia differs drastically from neighboring states because so little of these funds are actually spent on school level expenditures. For example, of the $12,511.76 in spending per pupil in Mon County, $4,755.25 (38%) is spent at the district level, which leaves only $7,756 per student for school-level expenditures to cover teacher salaries and classroom resources.
If spending nearly 40% of all educational funds on district and state level administrative expenses sounds absurdly high to you, that’s because it is. By way of comparison, neighboring Ohio spends only 12.5% of its per pupil funds on district level expenses according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Education. West Virginia's excessive administrative spending also largely explains why Virginia is able to pay its teachers substantially more and place more student resources in its classrooms with essentially the same overall per pupil spending. Even though West Virginia taxpayers are funding education at the same level as Virginia, administrators are churning so much off the top that West Virginia teacher salaries are nearly dead last in the country.
Excessive administrative bloat could be justifiable if that spending were driving better student outcomes, but the opposite appears to be the case. West Virginia’s student outcomes are well below the outcomes in neighboring states that place more of the funds at the school level. For example, West Virginia ranks 50th based on disaggregated NAEP scores on reading and math per the Cato Institute, whereas Virginia is number one, DC is fifth, and Ohio ranks nineteenth. Taken together, these outcomes suggest that West Virginia taxpayers, school teachers, and, most importantly, its students are being exploited by an army of school administrators that are not producing effective student outcomes.
While it may seem that the solution is simply for the districts to quit spending so much money on administrators and allocate more funds to the schools, the problem is more complicated than that, which is why charter schools provide a critical solution. After decades of lobbying by school administrators, the excessive waste on administrative spending is baked into the very code that funds the public schools themselves. While it is possible for administrators to choose to cut some of their own salaries to free up funds for school level expenses, an unlikely scenario at best, in many cases the funding formulas actually incentivize administrative spending. School districts do not have the freedom to simply cut all their own overhead and transition administrative expenses to teacher salaries because the funding formula often requires spending on administrative jobs or else the funds are forfeited by the districts. West Virginia school administrators, through years of lobbying, have collectively painted themselves into this corner where they have little control over the funds they spend. The current funding laws force the hands of school districts and take away much of the decision-making ability on funding allocations.
Public charter schools cut through this blockade of wasteful funding formulas and red tape because the rule forces school districts to pass 90% of the per pupil funds on to the actual schools. This law is, quite simply, the quickest and most effective way of combating administrative bloat within the current system as it will force districts to be more efficient with their district level spending. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent unnecessarily on administrative bloat only to deliver some of the poorest student outcomes in the nation. The army of administrators who have been leeching off the system have no interest in seeing charter schools succeed and will continue to fight against charter schools every step of the way. The company line is that charter schools “take funding” from public schools and must be defeated, but the reality is that charter schools do not alter the overall public school funding and instead reallocate funding from unnecessary and wasteful administrators so the funds can be used for more competitive teacher salaries and better classroom resources. Simply throwing more money at the current corrupt system will not alter student outcomes or improve the delivery of education.
Every parent in West Virginia should support charter schools so that more of the funding we are already providing through our tax dollars will actually reach the classroom and benefit our children. If the charter approach is successful on a small scale, it can be used as a model that will benefit the entire public education system. If you are a parent sitting on the sidelines silently hoping that the administrators who have been exploiting our children and school teachers for decades are suddenly going to have a change of heart and act against their own interests to make the system better, it’s time to lace up your shoes and get out onto the field. Without the involvement of parents, no charter school will ever be established in West Virginia and the pattern of failure in its public school system will continue. It is time to be a part of the solution.
 The total basic foundation allowance essentially represents the total funds available to the school districts per student after taking out all state level expenditures (i.e. funds allocated to the West Virginia Department of Education).  https://wveis.k12.wv.us/essa/dashboard.html  https://wveis.k12.wv.us/essa/choose_district_sum.html?selected_district=056  See Exhibit B3 from “Exploring the Quality of School-Level Expenditure Data: Practices and Lessons Learned in Nine States,” (U.S. Dept. of Education) available at https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/title-i/quality-expenditure-data/report.pdf  A Business Insider article ranks West Virginia 50th out of the fifty states and DC in average teacher salary on $11,554 in per student spending in 2017-2018 (only Mississippi had a lower average teacher salary). See Here's how much every US state pays its teachers and spends on a single student (Business Insider, August 21, 2019), available at https://www.businessinsider.com/teacher-salary-in-every-state-2018-4  See "Fixing the Bias in Current State K-12 Education Rankings," by Liebowitz and Kelly (Cato Institute), available at https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/fixing-bias-current-state-k-12-education-rankings