Charter schools in Arizona spend, on average, over twice as much money as public schools on administrative costs per student, according to a recent study.
Where Arizona public schools spend an average of $628 per pupil on administrative costs, charter schools spend an average of $1403 per pupil on such costs, according to data supplied by Arizona charter schools to the state Department of Education and analyzed by two policy groups in the state. That means charter schools spent about $128 million more on administrative costs on the 165,399 students who attended Arizona charter schools last year compared to what public schools would have spent on the same number of students. Administrative costs include expenses such as administrator salaries, lobbying and purchasing. They do not include teacher salaries, debt payments, building maintenance or transportation costs.
The Grand Canyon Institute, a fiscal policy think tank, along with Arizonans for Charter School Accountability looked at spending records listed in annual financial reports for the 2014-2015 school year from each of the state’s roughly 600 charter schools, then compared them to expense budgets for the state’s public schools. “We don’t know where that extra money is going,” said Dave Wells, research director for the Grand Canyon Institute. “That’s why they (charter schools) need to be held to a higher accountability and transparency standard.”
Charter schools are funded with taxpayer dollars but they are not accountable to the public for their spending, and they are not governed by elected officials. In addition, charter schools are not required to use a competitive bidding process, as is required of public schools.
The annual financial reports submitted by charter schools to the Arizona Department of Education list administrative expenses in three separate categories: General Administration, School Administration and Central Services, with the total amount of money that was spent on each of the three. However, there is no further breakdown of those expenses, so, for example where General Administration costs include lobbying and compensation of executives, there is no information detailing how much was spent on either particular item. The reports also provide no information on whom the schools paid.
“We have very inefficient schools that are wasting public money,” said Jim Hall, founder of Arizonans for Charter School Accountability. “Public education is dying and to have these schools taking this extra money from the system is really hurting public education.”
The report also found that one charter school operator, American Charter School Foundation, actually spent more more money on administrative expenses than it spent on actual teaching expenses. ACSF spent about $5.8 million to educate its 3751 students, but it spent $6.6 million to run its schools. No other charter operator spent more on administration than it did on instruction.
“Our goal isn’t to destroy charter schools, it’s just to make them transparent and have the ability to look at their spending,” said Hall.
When contacted for a comment, Megan Gilbertson, communications director for The Arizona Charter Schools Association provided a written statement with instructions that the statement be used in its entirety. However, that statement included information that could not be verified. In keeping with the association’s wishes that the statement not be edited, no comment or response is subsequently available for publication.