A new study done by policy group Save Our States has discovered that publicly funded charter schools cost taxpayer less money in New York than traditional public schools - by a margin of more than $3,000 per student.
Why the 24-27 percent discrepancy between charter schools and public schools? The report points to teacher benefits:
Pensions and health costs for teachers and other staff are substantially higher for the traditional, unionized public schools compared to charters, which offer their employees 401ks rather than more generous defined benefit plans.
The group's study directly challenges a New York City Independent Budget Office study from 2010 that suggested the cost gap between charter schools and more traditional public schools was much more narrow.
According to Harry Wilson, a co-author of the new study and experienced pension expert, the IBO study was "fraudulent" for not measuring employee benefits by the same standards used by corporations.
Both IBO and Save our States are defending their reports. Either way, charter schools will play a critical role in the New York City mayoral election. Democrat Bill de Blasio has been aggressive about charging charter schools rent and has made education reform a core component of his campaign platform. In contrast, Republican Joe Lhota is a passionate charter school advocate and critic of de Blasio's proposals. Although de Blasio is the current favorite in the polls, this new study and the recent pro-charter school/anti-de Blasio endorsement from state education chancellor Merryl Tisch could change the game.
Ultimately, voters will need all of the information on this top priority that they can get.