Special populations and rational decision making in Texas urban charter schools
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In an era of rapid charter school growth, this study sought to examine rational decision making for special populations in Texas urban charter schools. To investigate differences among charters, I categorized the schools into three groups: network corporate charters, community corporate charters, and intergovernmental charters. Quantitative analysis, including the use of ANOVAs and Tukeys, helped identify differences in expenditures among the three charter groups. Intergovernmental charters focused their spending on teachers and student programs, including programs for students with disabilities and ESL and bilingual programs. Community corporate charters spent less in most categories, except, in the majority of years, for social work, food services, cocurricular activities, and data processing. Network charters channeled their funding into areas such as school leadership, facilities, security and monitoring, and accelerated education. I then used qualitative analysis to understand how charter school administrators decide to spend their money in a way that is most cost-effective for their operations relative to their student populations. I completed 20 interviews with charter school administrators in four Texas cities. Administrators in charters were aware of the competitive accountability and fiscal environment in which they were running their schools. This resulted in cost-effective rational decision making. Charter administrators were also under significant financial stress and did not believe that their schools were adequately funded, though some charters still sought to make a profit or increase their net assets. To make up the difference in funding, some charters have relied on grants and donations from other corporations. Administrators also discussed special populations of students, such as ESL/bilingual students and students with disabilities.