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Job Loss?

Do charter schools take jobs from local schools?


Not exactly. The truth is, neighborhoods usually see a net increase in job growth.

Imagine a city that is its own LEA, and that it has its own K-12 system. It probably has an elementary school named after a President, a middle school named after a famous local figure, and a high school whose mascot is some kind of animal.

Let’s say there are 4 classes of 25 kids each for each grade level in the elementary and middle schools, meaning the elementary school (grades K-5) has an enrollment of 600 with 24 teachers, the middle school (6-8) an enrollment of 300 with 12 teachers (making 36 District teachers in grades K-8). The high school, which is small because it only serves this LEA, has 400 students and 16 teachers (making 52 District teachers in K-12). Let us further imagine that the District’s elementary and middle schools are underperforming, a charter school comes in to serve grades K-8, and immediately half the kids per grade in K-8 (50 per grade) leave their district school and come to the charter school.

This means that the District elementary school will now have 300 students, the middle school will now have 150, and the charter school will have 450. In a world of neatly packaged math, there would now be 12 teachers at the elementary school, 6 teachers at the middle school, 16 teachers at the high school, and 18 teachers at the K-8 charter school, meaning no change at all in teaching jobs available in the city (still 52 teaching positions, but between 4 schools). Some non-tenured district teachers might lose their jobs, but they could go work for the charter school.

However, sociological math is never that neatly packaged. The 50 kids per grade that left would have left from different classes; for instance, two full classes of 3rd graders wouldn’t leave while two other full classes did not. Instead, you’d see students leaving from different classes within each grade level, and this staggered departure would leave almost all the teachers at the original schools still teaching, just to fewer students.

For example, the 50 kids who left from 3rd grade perhaps left in the following sequence: 10 from Class A, 12 from Class B , 8 from Class C, and 20 from Class D (making 50 in all from 3rd Grade). Now, Class D is too small now to warrant its own teacher. With only 5 students, that teacher would be redundant. However, the remaining classes still have the following enrollments: Class A: 15 students, Class B: 13 students, Class C: 17 students. The principal would put the remaining 5 students from Class D into different classes, probably two in Class A and three in Class Bbringing the new class sizes to 17, 16, and 17 for Classes A, B, and C respectively.

This leaves three 3rd Grade teachers with jobs at the elementary school, not the two teachers outlined above in the “world of perfect math” scenario. If we applied this logic to every grade level, there would be (at minimum) 18 teachers still at the elementary school, 9 teachers still at the middle school, and 16 teachers at the high school (which was unaffected anyway), plus the 18 teachers now at the K-8 charter school (making  61 teaching positions). This is a net gain of 9 teaching positions in the city because the charter school spread the K-8 student body out between three schools instead of two.

As you can see, in the worst case scenario there is no net loss of teaching jobs within the LEA, and in a realistic setting there is usually tremendous job creation, especially when you consider the addition at the new charter school of front office workers, custodians, security officers, coaches, lunch ladies, and bus drivers.

net job creation chart