Chapter 19.6


How have Charter School Tuition Costs Grown?

Over the past two days, we’ve covered the regular and special education charter school tuition calculations. Today, we’re going to combine those tuition costs and take a step back to look at total school district expenditures for charter school tuition costs.
One of the largest areas of annual cost growth for school districts, charter school tuition costs have grown significantly over the past several years. In fact, in 2007-08, the total charter school tuition paid by school districts to brick and mortar and cyber charter schools was $621 million. In 2017-18, however, that total tuition amount climbed to $1.8 billion—an increase well over $1 billion or 166%.

Click on the interactive Infogram below to view the change in total charter school tuition costs paid by school districts to charter schools over time.


Why has charter school tuition grown so much? This growth is due to several factors. First, the number of charter schools has grown during this time. Second, as we discussed earlier this week, the number of charter school students has increased, going from about 70,000 in 2007-08 to nearly 140,000 in 2017-18.
Additionally, as we covered earlier this week, charter school tuition grows when school district expenditures grow. Over the past several years, mandated cost increases in pension costs, special education costs and charter school tuition costs have had a significant impact on charter school tuition rates.
From 2007-08 to 2017-18, mandated pension, special education and charter school tuition costs have increased school district expenditures by more than $5 billion—these three items alone account for about 80% of the total growth in school district expenditures during this timeframe. As a result, these three items played a significant role in driving up charter school tuition rates in school districts across the commonwealth.
The result of increasing charter school tuition rates is increasing school district expenditures. And, as school district expenditures increase, charter school tuition rates increase, and the cycle continues.
Click on the interactive map to view the total charter school expenditures made by each school district in 2016-17 (this includes all regular and special education charter school tuition paid to both brick and mortar and cyber charter schools) and the magnitude of these costs relative to total school district spending. The map also shows how this total charter school cost growth has affected each school district (change relative to total operating expenditures) on an annual basis.