by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
This week, JLF’s Dr. Terry Stoops published a research brief on a recently released article in the journal Political Economy in the Carolinas by Dr. Erik Root, an executive with the Roger Bacon Academy charter school management organization. According to Dr. Stoops:
Root’s article[, “North Carolina District Schools Are Thriving Fiscally Alongside Charter-School Growth,”] is a response to is a response to “The Fiscal Externalities of Charter Schools: Evidence from North Carolina,” a much-discussed working paper published in 2017 by Duke University professor emeritus Helen Ladd and University of Rochester economics professor John Singleton. Ladd and Singleton’s study examined six of the 59 counties that had one or more charter schools during the 2015-16 school year. The authors found, “large and negative fiscal impact from $500-$700 per pupil in our one urban school district and somewhat smaller, but still significant, fiscal externalities on the non-urban districts in our sample.”
Root takes issue with Ladd and Singleton’s limited sample, methodology, classification of expenditures, and data sources.
For instance, the limited sample size of the study makes it difficult to draw any real-world conclusions. Stoops writes:
[T]he Ladd and Singleton study examines only six counties in the state…The six counties in the sample were Durham, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Iredell, Orange, and Union… It would be foolish to base a recommendation on research that has such a limited sample.
However, that has not stopped members of the Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education from using findings like these to extrapolate that charter schools “place a financial and planning burden on public schools” and “[affect] the ability of school districts to provide a sound, basic education.”
Dr. Stoops rebuts this by noting, even if research could establish that charter schools negatively affect district schools’ finances, that finding itself does not matter if it does not negatively effect on student outcomes. Stoops explains:
In my initial response to Ladd and Singleton’s analysis, I pointed out that there was no discernable drop in student performance among the six school districts in their sample. Even if we granted that charter schools introduced negative fiscal impacts on these districts, there was no apparent academic harm to students who remained in them.
Overall, the draft reports published by the Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education contain a handful of very good ideas, but the commission’s inexplicable treatment of charter schools discredits the overall effort. They would be wise to consult with Dr. Root and others to consider the ways that charter schools have benefitted families and improved North Carolina’s system of public schools.