Friday, April 08, 2011

Why Charter-Friendly Funding Formulas Focus on "Free and Reduced Lunch" Rates

Bruce Baker:

In each proposal (ConnCAN’s Spend Smart & The Tab, or Rhode Island’s new formula [albeit laced with other problems unique to RI-see post]), among a variety of other major overlooked factors, arbitrary and unfounded recommendations, exists a seemingly innocuous proposal regarding how to target aid for variations in student needs across districts.

As the authors of ConnCan’s recent Spend Smart brief explain deeply embedded in a footnote… you really only need to use a single factor to get state aid targeted to the right schools and that factor is the share of children qualifying for FREE OR REDUCED PRICED LUNCH. There’s no need for a special factor for limited English proficient/English language learner populations, or anything else. It’s all pretty much correlated to free and reduced lunch. (Hassel’s previous report for ConnCan, The Tab, included a trivially small LEP/ELL weight instead of none at all).

First, this assumption is patently wrong to begin with and is never actually validated by the authors of these proposals. But let’s set that aside for the moment. I’ll have a future post where I use actual data to show just how freakin’ wrong the assumption is.

But why would they propose this anyway? Well, it turns out to be really simple. If a state has a fixed sum of money to distribute (generally how it works), the CAN game is to figure out on what basis might charter schools get the maximum share of that money – regardless of who really needs it most. That is, what measures CAN they choose for weightings which will drive money to charters. Charter schools do tend to operate in poorer communities (relative to state averages), but a) serve the less poor among the poor, b) serve few or no LEP/ELL children, and c) incidentally, also serve few or no children with disabilities (as has been addressed on my blog regarding NY and NJ charter schools, and will be addressed soon regarding CT charters – numbers already run, charts forthcoming). I’ll set aside c) for now.

So, the way to maximize charter funding, is to give a single weight for children qualified for free OR REDUCED PRICE LUNCH, and to negate any weight for LEP/ELL children (or make it as small as possible). That way, charters will get the same weight for kids whose family income falls between the 130% poverty level and 185% poverty level as neighborhood schools get for children below the 130% poverty level (This distinction is NOT TRIVIAL), where neighborhood schools have far more of the lower-income children. Any money that would have gone to LEP/ELL children can be rolled into a bigger weight for free/reduced lunch children, channeling a larger share of the total funding available to charter schools.

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