Study: Operation Costs Higher In Charter-Heavy Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The percentage of public school dollars going to school operation costs such as transportation and administrative salaries is higher in New Orleans — and the percentage devoted to actual instruction is lower — than in other districts that don't rely so heavily on charter schools, according to a study released Tuesday.

         The report is by Tulane University's Education Research Alliance. It compares spending in New Orleans with spending in a comparison group of districts that didn't go through the same type of charter-heavy education overhaul that New Orleans experienced after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

         "These results are somewhat surprising given the common concern that traditional school districts spend too much on large bureaucracies," study co-author Christian Buerger said in statement issued by Tulane, "but it is worth noting that these changes in spending levels and patterns came alongside a large improvement in education outcomes for students."

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         Overall, per-pupil spending is up in New Orleans and the comparison group. But the percentage of those dollars spent on administration, transportation and other operational costs was 13 percent higher in 2014 in New Orleans than in the comparison group. The percentage for instructional costs, such as teacher salaries, declined 10 percent.

         After Katrina, the state took over most New Orleans public schools and converted them to charters — publicly funded but run by independent organizations under charters granted by education authorities. The local school board, which retained some high-performing schools, chartered many of those, as well.

         Past studies by the Alliance have indicated that overall student achievement has improved in New Orleans under the charter-heavy overhaul. The new study gives no indication that the relative decline in instructional spending has affected that.

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         The report lists various factors in the higher operational costs. Transportation costs increased in New Orleans, in part because families had the option of sending children to public schools almost anywhere in the city, not just their neighborhoods.

         New Orleans public school teachers have less overall experience, accounting in part for a relative decline in teacher salaries.

         "Almost all of the decrease in total instructional salaries is due to lower average salaries per instructor, though new teachers still earn more today than teachers pre-Katrina who had the same years of experience," the study said.

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         Meanwhile, spending on administration at the school and district level — principals, assistant principals and other non-teaching staff at schools and charter offices — is up steeply.

         Administrative costs were 66 percent higher in New Orleans than in the comparison group, with half of that attributable to salaries.

         Among the reasons cited for higher administrative costs: the report says charters are more likely to hire educators with degrees from elite colleges; also, individual charter schools, or organizations that run a few charter schools, are smaller than traditional school districts and therefore don't have the same economies of scale, without a single system for accounting, food services and other costs.

         – by AP Reporter Kevin McGill


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