New Report Shows Charter Schools Generate Little if Any “Fiscal Impact” on Rhode Island School Districts

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Washington, D.C. – The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a new report that debunks arguments against charter school growth in Rhode Island due to fiscal impact. Data in the report show charter schools cause no fiscal impact on district schools that would merit capping the number of charter schools in Rhode Island at 35. This report offers guidance to address concerns about charter authorization and expansion but does not apply to charter renewal and revocation decisions.

Charter schools, innovative public schools that generally sit outside the jurisdiction of school districts, are frequently criticized for taking resources from other public schools or causing a negative fiscal impact on the district itself. These arguments are often used to oppose the growth or replication of charter schools. While this report is a deep dive into the specifics of Rhode Island’s charter sector, many of the fiscal impact arguments and rebuttals made in the report are also relevant in other states.

“In nearly every state with a charter school law, the fiscal impact argument is a favorite scare tactic of charter critics,” said Robert Reed, vice president of legal affairs for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. “On its face, it might seem to have merit, but a more careful look at the data tells a different story. We offer a point-by-point analysis of each fiscally based argument and clearly demonstrate that there is no negative fiscal impact on Rhode Island district schools. In fact, in some cases, district schools realize a net gain in per-pupil funding for their students.”

Charter schools are an important part of the public education ecosystem, and the primary goal of Rhode Island’s charter law is to use flexibility, innovation, and accountability to promote improved student learning and academic performance, with a special emphasis on the learning and performance of educationally underserved students. Especially since charter schools in Rhode Island are more likely to serve students with greater needs, it is the National Alliance’s position that charter school students deserve to be funded the same as their district peers.

“The report roundly dispels the myth that charter schools cause a negative fiscal impact on districts within the same region,” said Keith Oliveira, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools. “Further, the report goes on to point out that a district or school’s academic success is a function less of how much they have to spend and should be more of how well they spend what they have as it relates to student outcomes. Rhode Island’s charter law was written with a foundational goal of improving student learning and as such we should be doing more of what works, not less.”

As of 2020, Rhode Island had 32 public charter schools operating at 36 campuses enrolling 11,061 students, or 7.9% of the state’s public school students. Half of the state’s charter schools are in Providence, the state's largest city. Many charter schools draw students from multiple school districts, and some draw students from across the entire state. From the 2009-2010 school year to the 2019-2020 school year, charter school enrollment nearly tripled, increasing at 9.41% per year, with a subsequent rise of 9.6% during the pandemic year of 2020-2021.  

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