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Better Together: Ensuring Quality District Schools in Times of Charter Growth and Declining Enrollment

Read what experts from across the district and charter spectrum are saying about this report. Our guest blog series captures more in-depth perspectives.

In a report drawn from a convening of school district superintendents, charter leaders, school finance experts, and other education experts in Houston earlier this year, CRPE recommends that urban districts and charter schools collaborate to solve the problems associated with declining enrollment so that all students can have access to a high-quality education.

Urging Districts to Address Financial Challenges Caused by Declining Enrollment

CPRE’s report finds that most major school districts have not taken advantage of crucial opportunities to reduce costs as their enrollment has decreased. School districts must learn to make strategic financial cuts without removing crucial supports for struggling schools. The report recommends a series of actions to address financial challenges, including closing underutilized schools, selling unneeded property, cutting legacy costs by reforming pension agreements, and ending unfunded salary commitments. The report emphasizes that movements to enact state caps or disable charter schools won’t solve the problem of years of declining enrollment.

Recognizing the Need for Collaboration Between Urban Districts and Charter Schools

Candid quotes from district leaders, charter school leaders, and other education experts who participated in the convening expose some of the policy and political battles that have prevented problem solving to help mitigate districts’ financial losses. While enrollment loss is not primarily charters’ fault, in some districts charter growth has accelerated the problem. The report urges charter leaders to actively work with districts and states on solutions.

Exploring New Methods to Resolve Districts’ Financial Struggles

The report advises districts and charter schools to consider possible “grand bargains” to resolve financial troubles. Any of the options outlined would require thoughtful collaboration from charters, districts, and states to succeed. Convening participants stressed that the starting point for negotiations must include district commitments to reducing legacy costs.

This report is intended as a first step to help all sides overcome their entrenched viewpoints and unite to address the pressing financial problems that are threatening quality public education today.

This graph demonstrates Detroit’s declining school enrollment from 1970 to 2013.
Detroit data from 1970 to 2013 demonstrates that school district enrollment
was declining well before Detroit’s first charter school appeared in 2000.

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Cover of Research Report

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