Online Charter Schools increase district Funding per student
by Eric Fruits, Ph D
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Online or “virtual” schools educate students using lessons delivered via computer to students’ homes. Oregon charter schools receive a lower level of state funding than non-charter public schools. Even so, online charter schools attract criticism regarding their funding. Some critics complain that charter schools draw funding away from traditional schools.
This study examines the fiscal impacts of online charter schools on Oregon school districts. It evaluates whether, and the extent to which, virtual charter schools significantly deprive districts of financial resources. Thus, this study is a district-level study, rather than a complete study of the state-level and district-level funding of schools.
Online charter schools account for a small share of Oregon’s K–12 education market. As such, any potential fiscal impacts are too small to be of any significant concern. Online charters, however, may shift funds from one district to another. This amount, however, is so – $13 million out of a potential $3.7 billion (or about 0.35%) – that the impacts best could be described as de minimis.
It should be noted that the fiscal benefits to a district sponsoring an online charter may be amplified if the transferring student is in ESL ,has an IEP, is pregnant or is in foster care. In many cases, transfers to charter schools will increase how much districts can spend per student on those who remain in traditional public schools in the district. In addition, those districts that receive little or no state funding because of their substantial local revenue would not be noticeably impacted by students transferring out of the district to an online charter school.