The Oakland Achieves Partnership and Education Resource Strategies released a new report, Informing Equity: Student Need, Spending, and Resource Use in Oakland’s Public Schools, taking the deepest look yet into the operations of public schools in Oakland, both district-run and charter. The report, based on data from the 2014-2015 school year, makes it clear that there are opportunities for improvement and mutual learning across the Oakland public education ecosystem.
The report examined district-run and charter schools in Oakland across three areas: (1) student need; (2) resource levels, and (3) resource use. The report reflects a snapshot of financial and student-level data from the school year 2014-2015, and except where stated, does not speculate on intentions.
While district-run and charter schools enrolled similar numbers of English learner, low-income, and homeless students, the report found that:
- District-run schools had a higher share of students receiving special education and provided special education services in more restrictive and costlier settings than charter schools and peer districts locally and nationally. Twelve percent of students in district-run schools received special education services, compared to only 7 percent in charter schools, though there was significant variation across the sector. Additionally, compared to peer districts in California and nationally, the Oakland Unified School District placed 30 percent more of its special needs students in restrictive environments.
- At key transition points, there were significantly different academic need levels between district-run and charter schools. More high-performing students newly enrolled in charter schools at key grade levels– 6th and 9th grades–, while low-performing students disproportionately newly enrolled in district-run schools.
- District-run schools served a larger share of “late-entry” students who enrolled after October 1. These students typically had greater needs and required additional support.
- The report also identified areas where funding could be better allocated and used across charter and district-run schools. Among both district-run and charter schools, there was variation in the amount schools spend per pupil compared with their student need profile, showing that there is an opportunity to allocate resources across schools more equitably.
- Charter schools also were hampered by state law that caps the amount of need-based funding they could receive. This caused them to receive less funds to educate the English learners, foster youth, and low-income students they serve than their need would otherwise provide for.
- OUSD spent $1,400 more per pupil than charter schools on operating expenses. This was after adjusting for the number of special education, low-income, and English learner students which district-run and charter schools serve.
- Charter schools contracted teachers for about an additional hour per school day. Charter schools had 14 percent more teacher time per day on average, than did district-run schools.
- Additionally, the report showed that better city-wide facility planning is needed to use funds more effectively. Oakland operates a portfolio of relatively small schools, and in cases where schools were unintentionally small, restructuring could save money. The city could also save through better facility planning for charter schools, which varied widely in the amount they spent on rent. For example, during the 2014-2015 school year, if Oakland’s charters, who spent above the median rent, paid the median amount, they would have spent $3.4 million less in rent.
The Oakland Achieves Partnership is hopeful that this data can support a community dialogue on how to address shared challenges facing Oakland’s public schools. Through this data and conversations with stakeholders from around the community, several actions for further exploration have emerged, including:
- To ensure that school spending matches student need, explore opportunities for both the district and charter sectors to serve a more equitable percentage of students with higher needs, including needs related to special education, incoming proficiency and “late-entry” students. This includes increasing parent and student agency in choosing schools by increasing awareness of school options across Oakland, with a focus on families of students with greater needs.
- Change the state law that caps the revenue charter schools can receive based on their home district’s limit.
- Articulate a city-wide strategy on the number and mix of district-run and charter schools to allow schools to operate at a financially-sustainable size—including sharing facilities across schools, and creating service sharing opportunities across charter schools and between district and charter sectors as appropriate—so that as a community we are using our limited public education resources to best serve children in the classroom
By working together, district-run and charter schools can better serve all students in public education. This report should serve as a resource for leaders to work together and ensure that all students have access to a high-quality public education, including Oakland’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged students.