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Making Money Matter: Financing America's Schools
that their charter will be revoked or of other sanctions imposed by the state. Charter schools are a relatively recent phenomenon, and few systematic studies about them are available. While no information is available yet on their contribution to student achievement, some information is available on whom they serve, limitations related to accountability, their effect on public schools, and the problems they face in obtaining funding.
Contrary to opponents' predictions, the early experience with charter schools does not support the view that they disproportionately serve white and economically advantaged students (U.S. Department of Education, 1998b; Vanourek et al., 1997). The second-year report of a national study of charter schools showed that, while in 1996–97 they enrolled a smaller proportion of students with disabilities than other public schools in their state, their racial composition, the proportion of low-income students, and the proportion of students with limited English proficiency were similar to statewide averages. Moreover, when the analysis was extended to the district level, it showed that about 60 percent of charter schools were not racially distinct from their districts and another third enrolled a distinctly higher percentage of minority students than the district. Racial/ethnic enrollment patterns differ, however, across states with charter schools, with some states (California, Colorado, and Arizona) having a somewhat higher average percentage of white students in charter schools than in all public schools, whereas others (Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, and Wisconsin) had lower average percentages of white students in charter schools (U.S. Department of Education, 1998b).
With respect to accountability, Wohlstetter and Griffin (1998:14–15) found that in practice "the myth of greater accountability for charter schools far exceeded the reality." Although the 17 schools in their study reported that they appreciated the value of a sound accountability system, not one had such a system in place and the schools derided the use of externally imposed standardized tests because they would not assess accurately what the school was trying to accomplish. Similarly, a study of charter schools in ten California districts (UCLA Charter School Study, 1998) reported that, in most instances, charter schools were not yet being held accountable for enhancing the academic achievement of their students; they were more likely to be held fiscally accountable.
One of the rationales for charter schools is that they will promote greater effectiveness and efficiency in regular public schools. In the only study of this issue of which we are aware, Rofes (1998) conducted case studies of 25 randomly selected school districts in which charter schools were operating. Although more work on this issue would be desirable, his findings are suggestive. Based on interview data, he concluded that about one-quarter of the school districts responded to charters in an energetic way and had significantly altered their educational programs. In one district, for example, the formation of a local charter served as a catalyst for improving the district's middle school. Other responses included opening schools organized around a specific theme, setting up pilot