Austin, Texas A study conducted by Texas A&M economists and commissioned by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) finds that at-risk charter schools in Texas equal and even surpass traditional public school academic and financial performance.

The Texas Legislature is currently considering additional regulation of charter schools as a result of several highly publicized financial failures (HB 6 Dunnam). In contrast, the study indicates that current charters, relatively unregulated, are achieving their primary mission — that of educating students — and at levels that rival public schools. “Charters will continue to thrive because parents, not government bureaucrats, hold the schools accountable by choosing whether their child continues to attend” said TPPF President Jeff Judson. “If there are problems with charter school performance, then the first line of defense should be to better inform the parents who are choosing those schools. Centralized government regulation does not have a track record of success.”

Key findings include:

  • Test score improvements for continuing charter students track those of traditional public schools, and continuing at-risk charter students show greater improvement in their TAAS scores in both math and reading than do traditional public schools students.
  • Adjusting for differences in student characteristics, a student in an at-risk charter scores an estimated 0.76 of a point higher on the TAAS test (measured by the Texas Learning Index) than traditional public school students.
  • Total public revenue (state plus local plus federal) averaged $5,564 per pupil at charter schools and $7,135 per pupil at traditional public schools.
  • Based upon a cost-function model, the average charter spends over $4,000 per pupil less than a traditional public school to achieve the same academic outcomes.
  • Charter student test scores show short-term declines resulting from mobility effects, however, these effects are reversed after one to two years.
  • Overall, charter schools serve a much higher percentage of at-risk, minority and economically disadvantaged students than traditional public schools.

The study, Navigating Newly Chartered Waters: An Analysis of Texas Charter School Performance, was conducted by Dr. Timothy Gronberg, Professor of Economics, and Dr. Dennis Jansen, Professor and Head of Economics, at Texas A&M University.