Charter Schools Post Stronger Return on Taxpayer Investment: New Study

Charter schools in seven U.S. cities were responsible for learning gains projected to produce nearly half a million dollars in total lifetime earnings by their graduates, according to a new study by the University of Arkansas’ Department.  

DeAngelis, C., Wolf, P., Syftestad, C., Maloney, D., & May, J. (2021) Making it Count: The Productivity of Public Charter Schools in Seven U.S. Cities. School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform.

What’s more, each dollar invested in a child’s K-12 schooling creates, on average, $8.00 in lifetime earnings in public charter schools.  This compares favorably to $5.46 in lifetime earnings in traditional public schools for each dollar spent.  This a higher return on investment of $2.54 per dollar in the charter versus traditional district-run sectors, effectively a 46 percent return on investment advantage, according the the study authors.

Public charter schools, which serve all students and are operated by private, usually nonprofit, operators, generally receive less per-student funding than traditional public schools, and are not included in other subsidies frequently granted to school districts, such as funding earmarked for facilities or direct legislative appropriations.  In the final day of Nevada’s last legislative session, for example, $72 million in operating funding was appropriated to be split between school district schools, but state charter schools were bypassed.

In four of the cities examined – New Orleans, Denver, Indianapolis and Camden — charter schools demonstrated cost-effectiveness advantages higher than 50 percent.  The other cities examined were Washington, DC, San Antonio and Memphis.

Camden, NJ, charter schools posted the highest advantage among the cities in the study in student reading achievement gains compared with their school district.