The Ministry of Education put out a bit of propaganda a few months back that Cam Slater and his cronies seized on with glee. It tried to prove that charter schools aren’t really all that expensive, and that they actually are funded less than public schools.
It ignores a whole bunch of inconvenient facts.
1. When the state invests millions of dollars in a new school, it’s getting an asset that it owns. The school property portfolio is worth over $10 billion. Unused school sites are regularly sold. A charter school, if it buys its property, like the Whangaruru one, owns the assets themselves, and if they go belly-up, can walk away with whatever they’ve bought, paid for by the taxpayer. Funnily enough, I haven’t heard Jordan Williams or David Farrar making a fuss about this.
2. New schools cost a lot, whether they’re charter schools or public schools. However, before any new public school is opened there’s a thorough analysis which has to show that there will be significant roll-growth, above the capacity of existing schools to manage. Part of this involves talking with other local schools – like in this example of Hobsonville Point. This is absolutely not the case with charters – see Whangarei in particular, or Alwyn’s middle school in West Auckland where there are hundreds of spare places at the year levels he’s teaching. Hekia acknowledged this by making ‘in areas of roll growth’ one of the potential priorities for the second round – but it was a ‘nice to have’ priority, rather than a must have – and has been ignored.
3. The massive costs for new public schools, such as for example the millions on Hobsonville Point Secondary School, are almost all tied up in property and plant. In regards to teaching staff and operational funding, they receive the same as any other school of a similar size. The charters can, on the other hand, spend their money which in theory should be going on plant directly on the students, in small class sizes and free uniforms, or on executive salaries or whatever. The best example of this is the Whangarei charter that opened last year. Its lease is $60,000 per year for property – which means that property costs only one and a half students. It has a vastly disproportionate amount of resource available to spend compared to local public schools – and when you talk to Ministry of Ed staff, they’re well aware of this.
4. The most extravagant funding, for example for the aforementioned Whangarei charter, was based on the school’s assertion that they would be starting very small, and growing to a larger number of students (from 70 to around 300) – and property funding was based on the target roll rather than the actual roll. What a surprise – the roll doesn’t seem to be growing at the rate projected. But funding is still based on what they are aiming for. And don’t forget, it’s highly unlikely that a new secondary would be approved that only promised to get to 300 students, simply because that’s always going to be a very costly school (compare to, e.g Hobsonville Point again – target roll, 1500 students).
5. One of the premises of charters was that private sectors would ‘partner’ with the state to provide education –and provision of property was supposed to be one of the ways in which this would happen. Unsurprisingly, the outfits that want to operate them haven’t brought anything to the table at all, and have needed the state to fund them entirely.
6. How much is spent on instruction makes a difference to achievement. See, for example, this research on ‘low ability’ students receiving significant extra funding. Comparing the learning outcomes of charter and public schools is unfair. Any good scientific test needs clarity about what the variables are that are being tested. If charters get better achievement results than their local public schools which variable is making the difference? Massively more resourcing for instruction would be a pretty decent candidate – but is that the point that charter school advocates wanted to prove?
Anyway – don’t take my word on the costs of charter schools. This MoE document spells it out – see sections 35- 38.