Data and Methods

Financial Data

We use Michigan public school funding data from the 2014-15 school year. In particular, we use the Mackinac Center’s “Michigan School District Revenue and Expenditure Report” and aggregate charter and conventional district funding to the city level in order to compare per-pupil funding differences.[10] Each charter school is recognized and directly funded as its own district, known statutorily as a “public school academy.”[11] Because charters are recognized and funded as distinct entities from conventional districts, their funding levels can best be compared at the city level.

Funding data were available for public schools in 495 different cities in Michigan in 2014-15. Charter schools operate in 92 of these cities.[*] As a result, we limit our funding analysis to those 92 cities. These cities enrolled about 770,340 full-time equivalent students in public charter schools and TPS in 2016, representing about 55 percent of Michigan’s total public school enrollment.

We first examine differences in overall, per-pupil revenue by adding up all revenue sources and dividing by the number of enrolled students for each charter school and school district. Once we calculate per-pupil revenue from all public sources, we find the average difference between funding for charters and for districts operating in the same city. We then calculate the percentage of cities where charter schools average less funding compared to the nearby district schools and the percentage of children in each city enrolled in these lower-funded charters. We continue the analysis by examining differences for local, state and federal funding streams.

[*] We excluded the city of Baldwin from this analysis, even though there is a charter school located there. The traditional district in Baldwin receives a unique and substantial amount of state revenue for ancillary programs it oversees and this significantly skewed the comparisons between the traditional district schools and the city’s charter school.