Ohio charter schools in the state’s “Big 8″ urban districts perform about the same as other public schools in those districts — at about three-fourths of the cost.
(The view varies by district: You can use our sortable table of district and charter school performance to see how each area measures up.)
Thirteen years in, Ohio charter schools as a group haven’t lived up to the promise of doing things better and cheaper than traditional public schools. But they have shown what is possible: That a school can spend less money than traditional public schools and deliver better results.
Why is that?
The biggest reason charter schools spend less than traditional public schools is because their payroll costs are lower. That’s partly because charter schools generally pay teachers less, but it’s also because charter school teachers tend to be earlier on in their careers — and at the lower end of the salary schedule.
But What About [Blank]?
This analysis takes into account some of the nuances of Ohio’s public education system. It compares charter schools in each “Big 8″ urban school district’s county to the traditional public schools in the county’s largest school district in order to provide, to the extent possible, similar populations. It removes transportation from the expenditure category, since traditional public schools are required to provide transportation but charter schools are not. And it includes charter schools sponsored by both non-profits and those sponsored by school districts.
But it doesn’t break out different types of charter schools (online-only schools vs. traditional classroom-instruction-based schools, for example). It doesn’t look at charter schools outside of these eight districts such as those in suburban and other urban districts. It doesn’t take into account any demographic or cultural differences between students enrolled in traditional public schools and those in charter schools within the “big 8″ districts. And it doesn’t take into account the level of disability of the students enrolled in each type of school.
Plus, looking at charter schools vs. traditional public schools doesn’t take into account the wide range of academic models — and academic performance — among both types of schools.
The simple and obvious way to make these kinds of comparisons is rarely as meaningful as we would like it to be. This might be one of those situations.