Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Don Abernathy conducts the concert band during class at Monticello Academy, a charter school in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. A new report says Utah's charter schools receive less state funding per pupil than traditional public schools.
Utah charters get fewer state dollars than traditional schools

Per-pupil spending, broader inequities are larger issues, say education leaders.

First Published Apr 30 2014 05:18 pm • Last Updated May 01 2014 09:23 am

Despite their growing popularity, Utah charter schools get nearly 21 percent fewer state dollars per student than traditional public schools, according to a new report.

Utah charter schools, which are independently-run public schools, received $6,352 per student on average in fiscal year 2011, versus $7,995 in traditional public schools, according to a report released Wednesday by the University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The report’s authors gave Utah a grade of D for that gap. Nationwide, however, the disparity is even bigger.

Charter schools across the country received an average of $3,509 less per student, meaning Utah still had the 10th lowest gap among the 30 states (and the District of Columbia) that were studied.

Chris Bleak, president of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, said he’s not surprised by the report’s findings.

He called it a concern, though he noted that many Utah charter schools have had great success despite fewer dollars. He said state leaders should study those successes. Utah has 90 charter schools that enroll about 8 percent of all public school students.

"We should make sure we’re capturing the data and using the data to better inform our decisions," Bleak said.

But JoDee Sundberg, a leader of the Utah School Boards Association, noted that in some cases — such as in Alpine District — the district collects less money in some areas than nearby charters receive.

"Charter schools were implemented to be more innovative and do it for less, and that’s just not been the case," she said. "It’s been more difficult than what they thought it would be."

Robert Smith, legislative chair for the Utah Association of School Business Officials, also added that charter schools tend to have fewer mandates and more flexibility than traditional schools, so comparing the two can be difficult.

story continues below
story continues below

Also, financial comparisons between charters and traditional schools among Utah organizations show different results than the Arkansas study. The Utah Taxpayers Association found, for example, only a $103 difference between average per pupil spending in charters versus school districts in 2011-2012.

The report blamed the disparity in Utah on differences in how charter and traditional schools are funded in various areas. For example, Utah charter schools can’t raise taxes like school districts can. They receive some money, mostly from the state, to make up for that — but it’s still sometimes a smaller amount than what many districts can raise through local property taxes.

Also, charter schools don’t receive state money for busing. And they don’t receive as many federal dollars as traditional schools, possibly because they don’t have the time or resources to apply for the money, or possibly because of federal rules that favor big districts when it comes to Title I money, according to the report.

Title I money is for schools serving large percentages of students from low-income families.

Bleak, however, said he believes the bigger overall issue is education funding inequities in Utah, in general.

In Utah, state-level funding is distributed equally per student, but the amount of local property taxes school districts collect varies widely, depending largely on the wealth of their communities.

In recent years, some lawmakers have attempted to minimize those differences. But such bills have generally failed amid worries they would take money from richer districts to give to poorer ones, and/or that they would mean higher taxes for homeowners across the state.

"I think that needs to be the public policy issue for the state, allowing our schools to compete against one another based on reasonably equal revenues," Bleak said.

Gregory Cox, principal at Monticello Academy in West Valley City, also cited low per pupil spending as one of Utah’s larger education finance issues. Utah has the lowest per pupil spending in the nation.

Sundberg agreed that she’d like to see state leaders find a way to more fairly fund all students, regardless of where they attend school.

"Whether it be charter schools or public schools, we just need to be able to fund kids," Sundberg said. "That’s the most important thing."

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.