With 31% of all state funds in Utah’s budget going towards public education, each year your Taxpayers Association scrutinizes all of Utah’s school districts to determine per pupil expenditures.
However, not all of that amount goes towards district schools. More than 75,000 students, about 11% of the total student population, attend public charter schools. Your Taxpayers Association reports on the spending of 112 of Utah’s charter schools to make comparisons between how districts spend tax dollars, and how charter schools spend money that is appropriated to them.
Charter schools are funded based on the principle that allows state funds to follow the student. If a student opts to attend a charter school, 25% of the local property taxes allocated to that student follows him/her, while leaving 75% remaining in the district in which the student resides. While a district can impose property tax levies on taxpayers within its boundary, a charter school cannot. Therefore, the majority of charter school funding comes from state income tax dollars. Due to the nature of charter school funding, some building costs, lunch programs, and facility maintenance may be accounted for in areas that do not accurately reflect the budget category within the data.
The National Center for Education Statistics, which forms the basis for the Utah uniform chart of accounts, permits Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to account for property acquisition and leases of real property in the general fund. While districts and some charter schools have accounted for capital expenses in the capital outlay fund, other charter schools have accounted for it in the general fund. As such, some charter school operations and maintenance expenses, as the source data reports them, may exceed expected norms of other LEAs.
District schools spent an average of $687 more per pupil on direct instructional expense than charters in FY2019. Charters spent an average of $4,257 per pupil on instructional expenses, which are costs directly related in the education of students. This would include teacher salaries and classroom expenses.
Charter schools spent, on average, roughly $800 less on traditional general fund expenses, and more than $1,500 less than districts, when facilities and school lunch programs are factored in. However, due to some accounting methods by charter administrators, lease payments for facilities and other construction and building maintenance are accounted for in other categories, but still from the general funding. This could lead to the skewing of some charter schools in this category.
Additionally, any O&M per pupil expenses over $1,000 would be due to this accounting method. For example, City Academy spent $3,423 per pupil in O&M, whereas the average is $610. This massive discrepancy is due to that charter school accounting for facility construction in this category. Charter schools often will rent out existing structures and convert them into schools, which explains how many charters spend no money on facility construction. As mentioned before, many charters do charge leasing payments under the O&M category, but others do opt to build a brand new facility.
Charter schools also spent more on administrative costs than districts by $348, for a per pupil average of $1,200, compared to $852 for districts. However, administrator salaries are in line with the districts, averaging 179% of the average teacher salary.
Teacher salaries at charter schools tend to be lower than a district school, with the FY19 average being $44,291. District schools pay more by nearly $1,000 than that total on average.
Our Charter Spending Report does give a snapshot as to what each charter is spending money on, and compares that to a district average. To read the report, click here.