The Financial Impact of Charter Schools' Enrollment on Traditional Public School Expenditures, Resource Allocation and Programming

Open Access
Griffith, Brian Keith
Graduate Program:
Educational Leadership
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 28, 2014
Committee Members:
  • William Hartman, Dissertation Advisor
  • William Hartman, Committee Chair
  • Jacqueline A Stefkovich, Committee Member
  • Erica Frankenberg, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • charter school
  • tuition
  • enrollment
  • public school programming
  • fiscal impact
  • special education
  • public school finance
This research study examines the financial impact of charter school enrollment on traditional public school expenditures, resource allocation and programming in four select Centre County Pennsylvania School Districts. The districts studied included: Bald Eagle Area School District, Bellefonte Area School District, Penns Valley Area School District and State College Area School District. The study is organized around the following key research questions: (1) What have been the student enrollment trends for Regular Education and Special Education of Centre County students by school and by grade over the past five years? (2) What has been the fiscal impact of charter schools on each of the four school districts? (3) What, if any, impact on instruction, support, and extra-curricular programs has there been as a result of growing tuition payments to charter schools in each of the districts? (4) Are there common threads among the experiences of the four school districts? The methodology used included a mix of quantitative and qualitative research to better explain the complex nature of this study. Enrollment, financial and programming data were collected from varied sources including fiscal and enrollment data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education and individual school districts and from interviews with key district-level decision makers. The interviews were chiefly used to explain the quantitative data. The study found that charter school enrollments have coincided with enrollment declines in all four districts. The growing charter enrollments have obligated the districts to make tuition payments to charter schools in ever increasing amounts. These expenditure increases have been made up chiefly through taxes since the districts have not been able to realize efficiencies since the number of charter students in a given grade or school are insufficient to reduce staffing. The inability to accommodate for enrollment changes as well as other mandated and necessary expenditures has placed financial stress on the districts. Over time, programming changes and/or other efficiencies will need to be made if tuition costs continue to climb without adequate revenue sources. The implications of the research indicate a need for broader study across Pennsylvania followed by policy changes aligned to this research.