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Funding and Achievement

Charter School Funding

Funding is one of the many misunderstood issues surrounding charter schools. As defined in What is a Charter School, charter schools are public schools, not private. They are funded through local districts with at least 95% of the per pupil operating revenue distributed by the State of Colorado. In the district neighborhood schools, those dollars go toward salaries, curriculum, and other benefits to the classroom. The school facilities are funded by taxpayer bonds approved by voters in those districts. Historically, charter schools have not benefited from facility bonds (although there are districts that do share a portion with charters). So the charters must pay their facility costs from the money otherwise going directly to the classroom.

In 2008, the Colorado League of Charter Schools published a report about the funding disparity for charter schools. It is an interesting, comprehensive, and readable report.

Shortchanged Charters: How Funding Disparities Hurt Colorado's Charter Schools

Comparing School Achievement:

If you are deciding which school is best for your child, surely one of the measures you will want to consider is academic achievement. Each year the Colorado Department of Education releases School Accountability Reports (SAR) based on CSAP scores. Charter and non charter public schools are rated. You can see the scores and ratings for each school on the CDE website.

Before we look at the details of the CDE spreadsheet data, you can also find a snapshot of schools by district, or individually, listing simply their rating. You can search by district or by school name. Also on this page is a link to the John Irwin Award winners--the top 8% of schools (by CSAP scores) across the state.

Now, what does the information on the detailed spreadsheets (linked above) mean and how can a parent evaluate it? First, let's look at the structure of the spreadsheet and explain some of the fields. The CDE explains the statistical methodology on their website (Academic Performance Rating Methodology), but for those of us who find ourselves losing consciousness trying to read statistical analysis, here is a simpler explanation.

The spreadsheet is organized by district. Unfortunately, it's ordered by district number, rather than alphabetically by name. But it is fairly easy to scroll through to find your district. Once you locate the district you live in, you will see each school listed individually.

There is a column titled "EMH". Simply, those letters stand for Elementary, Middle, or High School. There are some schools that service multiple levels. In those cases you will see one school listed more than once with scores reported by level.

The next columns are Low Grade and High Grade--the grade levels taught in each school.

Next is the 2008 Score--a mathematical calculation based on the number of students who score Advanced, Proficient, Partially Proficient, and Unsatisfactory on the CSAP. A student testing Advanced is given a high positive value, while a student scoring Unsatisfactory is given a negative value. Those numbers are calculated to find the aggregate school score.

The next column is 2008 Rating--Excellent, High, Average, Low, or Unsatisfactory. In order to see the range of scores for each rating, look at the Cut Score spreadsheet on the CDE site.

Now that you understand the spreadsheet you can compare individual school scores in your district, as well as districts across the state.

See the Resources for Parents page for comparison tools.

Did You Know?

"Charter schools spend, on average, 15% of their per pupil operating dollars to pay for their facilities."
-From the CLCS

"Overall, 48% of charters were rated excellent or high by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) in 2006, while 42% of non-charter public schools received that rating. The evidence is even more compelling for middle schools--55% of charters were rated excellent or high compared to 41% of non-charters."
-From the CLCS