Schools can cut spending when students leave

At least 64 percent of school costs vary with enrollment, estimates The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts, an analysis by the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice. That means “school choice programs where ‘the money follows the child’ can be designed . . . to improve the fiscal situation of public school districts.”

Spending per student averaged $12,450 in 2008-09. If a departing student takes $7,967 to another school, there would be no fiscal burden on the average public school district. A smaller voucher would provide more money to be spent on the remaining students. If enough students leave, the district can save more money by consolidating schools.

About Joanne


  1. That’s ridiculous — unless you start paying teachers by commission, per student taught. How are labor costs reduced? How is the cost of maintaining the facility reduced? Please clarify this in detail for us, Joanne.

    (Unless, of course, entire classes of students in the same grade leave at once, but that seems likely to be a rare occurrence.)

    • Yes, the budget should definitely be a function of whatever costs are currently being incurred and not at all related to the function of the institution. If there’s just a single kid left in the school, or better yet if there aren’t any kids in the school, the budget mustn’t be reduced by a single cent.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        Lots of companies have situations where costs cannot be reduced (or increased) at the same granularity that customers arrive and depart.

        How would *you* reduce the cost by $8K at a school where a 3rd grade class lost one student and went from 27 kids to 26? No fair picking some cost savings that could/should have been done with 27 kids (e.g. reduce janitorial services by having the kids clean up their own classroom).

        • Yes, and for *all* of those companies the responsibility of dealing with that situation is theirs. So the answer to your question’s easy – it’s not my problem.

          My problem is seeing to it that society gets what it pays for and what society pays for is kids getting an education not teachers pulling a pay check.

          Teachers, and schools, are a means to an end. That ought to be born in mind lest the means and the ends get confused or in the case of public education the means becomes the ends and the original ends are, to the extent possible, ignored.

    • Just as schools add teachers and aides when enrollment rises, they lay off teachers and aides when enrollment declines. If it goes down by too few students to cut an entire class at each grade level, they combine two grades in one class or shift school boundaries.

      Facility costs don’t decline until a school is so empty that it’s closed. That’s why the study estimated 36% of costs are “fixed.”

      • Yes, if enrollment declines by a large chunk. If enrollment drops by a few kids per grade, the loss of funding hurts the other kids and there is no commensurate reduction of costs.

        For that matter, this doesn’t address the fact that charters impose enrollment hurdles that mean that public schools wind up with the more challenging students — all my friends who are associated with charters (parents and teachers alike) confirm that.

        • How can the loss of funding hurt the other kids? Will the teachers slack off if their paychecks are reduced by the amount necessary to cover the budget shortfall? Naw, must be something else. Care to expand?

          Oh, can you please stop with the “cherry-picking” nonsense?

          You’ve been challenged to demonstrate that charters have entry requirements and you’ve always backpedaled or tried to offer lame alternative interpretations to the charge. Charters don’t have entry requirements. It’s district schools that have entry requirements and those schools are called “magnet” schools.

          And pray tell, why would the district schools get the kids with problems? You go looking for alternatives when the current situation isn’t working out for you, as in your kid is having problems of some sort so you decide to see if a charter school will be a better environment. Why would parents whose kid is doing well in a school pull them out?

          • I have absolutely not backpedaled.

            Examples: KIPP SF Bay Academy requires students to take a test — or did at the time when I applied as a test case for my daughter, anyway. Supposedly, students are admitted no matter how they do on a test. Still, this weeds out students who aren’t compliant enough to sit still for a test (these kids are grade 5 and older). It weeds out students whose families can’t get it together to get them to the test, students whose families fear they will do poorly on the test (and who believe that they have to do well to be admitted), and students who are simply terrified by a test.

            Gateway HS in San Francisco has a 13-page enrollment application requiring multiple essay answers by the parent; it also requires an essay by the student, teacher recommends, transcripts, and signed agreements to this-and-that. Clearly this weeds out the unmotivated and dysfunctional.

            The parent of a student with autism who attends Creative Arts Charter School in San Francisco says that the school refused to accept her application at all. She threatened not just to sue but to shut the school down, at which point it relented. She says CACS (which her child now attends) still routinely counsels out challenging students.

            District schools get the kids with the worst problems because charter schools won’t accept them, or push them out if they do.

            I already know from ample experience that Allen will bully and sneer no matter what I post, but this is for the benefit of other readers.

          • They have an enrollment application? Oh the horror!

            I understand that’s the approach taken by the Spanish Inquisition to suppress dissent.

            It is kind of humorous that you assert the school had an entry test, then back off of that assertion, then try to build a case for the current selectivity of the school based on the flimsy premise that maybe they once did have an entry test. There’s that backpedaling. Again.

            Maybe it’s just me but those sorts of gyrations don’t exactly lend a great deal of credibility to your story of the kid with autism. I guess the story just has to be taken on faith, hey?

            And I’m still waiting for an explanation of how a budget cut, due to running a school so lousy that parents flee when an opportunity presents itself, results the remaining kids being hurt. Will the teachers do a poorer job if they’re poorer? will the gruel ration to the kids be reduced?

            Lastly, quite whining. It’s embarrassing, although not embarrassing enough to let you get away with peddling your excuses. Maybe you should think about coming to terms with the fact that you’re doing a bad job at a job that can’t be done well – making excuses for the public education status quo.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          Any charter gets students whose parents or guardians are sufficiently displeased with the present school, and sufficiently optimistic about the alternative, to participate in whatever process is required to move the kid.

          That means that in general charters will not get the best students. Those students will be doing fairly well at their present school and, unless there is some special problem, parents will probably not try to move them away from their friends and neighbors. On the other hand, charters will not get the worst students either. They probably don’t want to enter a more challenging program and their parents are unlikely to try to push them. Charters get the motivated middle.

          Neighborhood schools without that motivated middle may be worse. I can imagine some arguments. I’d love to see some data.

        • CaliforniaTeacher says:


          Thanks so much for your thoughtful posts. I’m trying to read allen’s as well to get both sides, but it’s very difficult to get past the snide comments and personal attacks. Hopefully he can clarify without getting mean.

  2. This is one of those areas that I have really wondered about in terms of making charters or other forms of choice sustainable. Currently, the funding for kids is awarded annually most places, I think. There are a couple of key class count days and maybe some other average daily attendance figures, but basically a school or district can do a pretty good job budgeting teachers based on projections.

    But with the money following the kids, is the idea that teachers simply won’t have annual contracts so that if enrollment falls, teachers are released mid-year? I understand that in private non-educational employment, this happens, no doubt.

    But won’ having that kind of employment uncertainty mean that most teachers with choices will opt for more secure employment? And aren’t teachers with more choices likely to be the more desirable employees? So won’t doing it this way leave the charters likely to attract weaker teachers who can’t get more secure jobs? I have a hard time imagining that charters will be able to offer the kind of higher pay that makes most higher risk opportunities worth taking in the private sector.

    Also, what happens if a kids leaves a traditional public for a charter but then elects to go back to the traditional public? Is there a pro-rated amount of money per month that follows the kid?

    I’m not so worried about cutting the public pool of funds since I think they usually waste a lot anyway, but I don’t see how a charter will really be able to compete for employees.

    • Peace Corps says:

      There are a few teachers that teach for reasons other than money or job security. I taught for 2 years at a charter. The major problem for me was that our school attracted mostly average students. A few on the left side of a normal distribution, but I would say not any a standard deviation above the mean. These were not students that I felt compelled to become a teacher for — Although I loved my students and worked hard for them, the lack of upper level students meant something was missing for me personnally.

    • I agree with that sentiment, NDC – what’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. If public schools should be asked to roll with the punches when students leave, recipients of voucher should similarly be expected to return a prorated portion of the money they receive if the student goes back.

      The Friedman Foundation is reportedly dedicated to advancing of privatization of public schools through vouchers.

    • In answer to your question, districts aren’t simply cut off in many states when a kid goes to a charter. The funding for the kid drops over several years.

      As for how the funding’s determined, those “count” days, it’s an idiotic idea.

      The technology’s now available, and has been available for, oh, a couple of decades at least, to keep track of kids on a daily basis. Now, with facial recognition technology becoming trivial, it’s even easier. Districts could be compensated for the actual number of days kids show up. Think that might have an effect on the drop-out rate?

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      But won’ having that kind of employment uncertainty mean that most teachers with choices will opt for more secure employment? And aren’t teachers with more choices likely to be the more desirable employees? So won’t doing it this way leave the charters likely to attract weaker teachers who can’t get more secure jobs?

      Not necessarily, no. A person who is really skilled at what they do and who knows it doesn’t necessarily mind a little insecurity.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        On the other hand, public school teachers are notoriously risk averse. The lack of employment uncertainty (after your “tenure year”) is a major reason many go into it.

        • Michael E. Lopez says:


          • I don’t know how many teachers go into teaching because it’s secure, but I’m in a right to work state that bans collective bargaining by teachers. So I guess that our tenure protections may not be as generous as other states. Maybe college kids in New York do say to themselves, “I know! I’ll teach; the worst I have to fear is the ‘rubber room’ and I’ll be paid forever no matter what.” But I have my doubts that’s what really happens.

            I’m really just thinking about how charters will be able to attract people. I think I’m pretty good at what I do, but assuming that there’s no tremendous pay increase, why would I leave a job at a largely functional employer with a secure annual contract and predictable procedures for layoffs to go to a different employers who doesn’t pay any more, is unproven in terms of performance, and can’t offer a secure annual contract? Sometimes the expectations is an improved working environment, but if you’re already teaching at a good school. . .

  3. Well, no kidding about teachers who teach for reasons other than money and security, Peace Corps, but is there some reason to think that chapter schools are going to provide the intangible benefits of teaching at a rate so much higher than traditional public schools?

    If you can satisfy those motives at either type of venue, what pulls you to a charter over traditional?

    • Peace Corps says:

      1. Teachers aren’t treated like widgets
      2. Teachers have more influence in the running the school
      3. Less bureaucracy
      4. More flexability

      These are just a few off the top of my head

      • Everyone I know who teaches or has taught at a charter did/does it because he/she couldn’t get a job at a public school. All of them have grabbed the chance when a public school opportunity opened up, or would if it did.

        • Peace Corps says:

          And this tells us what exactly?? I’m not getting your point. Do you know why they would have grabbed the chance? Do you think all these teachers that teach or taught at charters were not good teachers, or at least not as good as ones found at district schools? Please elaborate.

          Is your point simply a counterpoint to me, because I already stated that I left a charter school myself. As a high school math teacher I am in demand whether or not I am a GOOD math teacher. I could have started out at a district school, but chose to give the charter school a try. I liked somethings about it and disliked somethings, but that is the way it is with just about any job.

          I may be an outlier, but that doesn’t make my experience invalid.

  4. Correction to: KIPP SF Bay Academy requires students to take a test — or did at the time when I applied as a test case for my daughter, anyway.

    *KIPP SF Bay Academy requires APPLICANTS to take a test.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      KIPP of SF Bay Academy requires applicants to take a PLACEMENT test.

      There. I corrected it for you.

      FYI, most high schools in New Jersey – not charters – require a placement test upon enrollment when the student comes from out of the district. Our districts are quite small with typically only one high school per district, so a kid can move into a neighboring town 3-5 miles down the road, and if he’s moved to a new distict, a placement test maybe required. But, then, our high school are high performing, so apparently we have higher standards/expectation than does Callie. Boo-hoo.

    • From the KIPP SF Bay Academy web site:

      “KIPP schools are tuition-free, open-enrollment public schools. Students
      are accepted regardless of background or academic record on a first-
      come, first-served basis.”

  5. I know what the KIPP SF Bay Academy website says, Allen. That’s why I applied for my daughter — to see if they would require a test, which they did. (Which, by the way, is more scrutiny than the actual working press ever gives KIPP.)

    Again, the requirement to sit for a test serves as a deterrent to the less-motivated and less-compliant. In some places, when it has been “discovered” that KIPP required a test for applicants, it was something of a scandal and KIPP was made to stop — this occurred in Baltimore, for example.

    KIPP schools are also well known for an intensive counseling session as part of the intake process that further discourages unpromising applicants.

    And a 13-page enrollment application requiring multiple essay-length answers — and further requirements as part of the enrollment process — does not constitute just “an application.”

    The fact that charter defenders have nothing to resort to but sneering, blustering, bullying and jabs like “boo-hoo” reveals their lack of actual substance with which to defend their case.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      You frequently sneer and bully in your own posts and then are shocked, SHOCKED – I tell you, that you are served in the same manner as you dish. Either grow a pair or grow up.

      • Michael E. Lopez says:

        Maybe I’ve got rose colored glasses, but I can’t think of a single instance of Caroline being either sneering or bullying.

        Wrong, yes. Frequently. Maybe even usually. But she’s one of my favourite commenters hereabout precisely because she’s always so even-keeled, reasoned, and earnest.

        Maybe you’ve something specific in mind with which you can help correct my perception, if you believe it erroneous?

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          Well, I do have a few specific comments in mind, but I’m not willing to search Joanne’s archives to locate them to prove any kind of point.

          We disagree on the Caroline’s posting style; I’ve found her frequently abrasive and condescending.

        • Lightly Seasoned says:

          Yup. I don’t always agree with Caroline, but she’s usually logical and rarely resorts to ad hom and reductio.

          We use placement tests for kids coming in from the charters — their achievement levels are incredibly dismal — often we can’t put a kid in algebra for credit because he passed it at the charter, but he isn’t capable of passing our algebra class and moving on to geometry… so the kid is kinda stuck going backwards to the “skills” classes.

          FWIW, my observation is the same — teachers start out in charters if it is the only place to get a job, but get into the public schools as soon as they possibly can — and have a lot of horror stories. The *idea* of charters has a lot of promise; I don’t think they’ve lived up to it. Yes, the “free market” supposedly weeds them out, but not before a few cohorts of kids suffer the consequences. In the free market, a product that isn’t any good ends up at flea markets and bargain stores; if the product isn’t any good at a charter, that product is the crappy education of real, breathing children. I don’t see how that’s any better than bad urban schools. I guess one can get all philisophical about parent choice, etc., but you’ve still got a poor, uneducated kid with no prospects.

          • Let’s just keep in mind that crappy charter schools aren’t the only crappy public schools around. Crappy district schools enjoy one huge advantage over charters, or they did until the advent of charters, and that’s that they’re forever.

            Rare’s the district that’s willing to put up with the hassles from the union, from parents and from the details, of shutting down a dreadful district school. Far easier to just keep it open no matter how many kids’ lives are ruined.

          • Lightly Seasoned says:

            Well, there’s usually no where for the students to go if the a whole district just disapears, so the state takes over.

          • The point, which you must necessarily ignore since there’s no response you can make that’s other then ridiculous, is that while bad charters may, probably will, close down a district can compel kids to go to a district school no matter how bad it is and keep forcing them to go to that school.

            You want to explain why that’s an acceptable state of affairs?

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Are you familiar with placement testing? They’re used to ASSESS and place kids in an appropriate track/class placement.

      Should a NJ school or KIPP trust the inflated meaningless grades that any random public school assigns or the sometimes fraudulant state testing results?

      Does an Algebra I credit granted in California really mean the kid can pass the EOC exam required in NJ? No, it doesn’t.

  6. Well feel free to provide some support for your contention that there’s a test required for admission. I won’t hold my breath.

    And if this nonexistent test is supposed to serve as a deterrent it’s doing an exceptionally poor job. The waiting list for the 125 slots is 600 kids long.

    Oh, and about that “13-page enrollment application requiring multiple essay-length answers”? Here’s the link –

    It’s one page long.

    And I’m still waiting to hear how the loss of a single kid, and their funding, to a charter results in the remaining kids suffering.

    Perhaps you can take time out from feeling sorry for yourself at what a big meanie I am and address that question? That “lack of substance” doesn’t seem to be of much interest to the parents of those 600 kids who are hoping to get into the 125 slots at KIPP.