The WORD from Harrisburg
There are more educational opportunities today than ever before, everything from homeschooling, traditional public schools, private schools, charter schools and cyber charter schools. This is a blessing to the many families who have children who may not thrive in the typical public school setting; however, the funding of these educational choices is one that is gaining the attention of state officials and taxpayers alike.
The concern is the funding structure that is currently providing charter and cyber charter schools with an abundance of state dollars with little to no oversight of how that money is being spent or attention to how much they truly need in order to educate their students.
To address this issue, I am one of the primary co-sponsors of legislation authored by Rep. Mike Fleck from Huntingdon County to amend the state’s Public School Code regarding the operation of these schools.
The main problem arises because publicly funded cyber charter and charter schools are receiving the same amount of money that traditional public schools receive instead of what it actually costs them to educate a student. These schools charge home school districts tuition, which is paid for by taxpayer dollars.
This is especially evident in the case of cyber charter schools, which typically maintain one central location where the teachers teach from while the students are at home learning over the computer. This type of school is still receiving taxpayer funds to educate a child that are comparable to a brick-and-mortar public school that needs to provide for things such as the maintenance of the facility, student transportation, athletics and extracurricular activities. This type of inconsistency needs to be addressed.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, there are currently 167 charter and cyber charter schools operating in the Commonwealth with a total enrollment of more than 105,000 students – 154 brick-and-mortar charter schools with 72,714 students and 13 cyber charter schools with 32,322 students.
House Bill 2364 would change the current funding formula used to determine school district tuition payments for students who attend charter and cyber charter schools to:
· Remove the “double dip” for pension costs which are not now subtracted from district expenditures, saving taxpayers an estimated half billion dollars within five years.
· Eliminate non-instructional services from tuition payments, including athletic funds, non-public school programs and services, and the tuition payments themselves as they are unrelated to operational costs.
· Limit unassigned fund balances and make them consistent with traditional public schools.
House Bill 2364 would change the funding formula for special education costs as well.
Furthermore, it would establish a year-end audit process to ensure charter and cyber charter schools are being paid for the actual cost of educating students. Those audits would be made available to the public to create greater transparency.
Unfortunately, these audits have become necessary, as we learned last December when Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner released a report that found taxpayers spent $936 million on charter and cyber charter schools during the 2008-09 school year, which included $225 million in questionable reimbursements to school districts because the actual educational costs were unknown.
I think cyber charter and charter schools offer a great alternative educational experience for many students; however, we need to make sure that all public dollars are being used judiciously. Education is currently the second largest expenditure in the state budget and we need to hold our schools accountable and make every dollar count.
House Bill 2364 is currently before the House Education Committee, and has garnered the support of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and Pennsylvania Association for Rural and Small Schools.
State Representative Jerry Stern
80th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Tricia Lehman