Why now is not the time to expand Charter Schools in Pennsylvania

Posted by By at 12 January, at 09 : 49 AM Print

Rock The Capital’s Eric Epstein has spoken and written extensively about reform in our educational system. Epstein reasons that now is not the time to grow charter and cyber schools in the Commonwealth.  He spoke about his rationale, earlier this week, at the Dauphin County School Board.

Many public schools are underperforming and there is always room for improvement for those district’s that meet benchmarks. There is no magic bullet to cure all of the challenges. Folks that tell you they have the answer, don’t understand the complexity of the problem.

Replaying the same talking points over and over is not going to change the outcomes. Teachers, school boards, administrators, parents and students need to be held accountable.

We need a new script to preserve the social compact of providing quality public education to our children. We must defeat philosophical gridlock and legislative inertia, and seek out proven reform models.

However, I must respectfully ask the Board to reject the proposal from Capital City Charter School for Public Service consistent with Auditor General Jack Wagner’s call for a moratorium on new charter schools. Ohio, Delaware and New Hampshire have also imposed moratoriums.

At issue is not the concept, but the current funding method for charter and cyber charter schools which can result in unaccountable expenditures, cross-district subsidization and profit taking. This may be a topic more appropriately parked in a Task Force subcommittee.

On October 5 2010, Mr. Wagner released a report that found in 2008-2009 taxpayers spent $936 million on 116 charter and 11 cyber charter schools with an enrollment of 73,054 students. During that period, the charter and cyber charter schools reported $108 million in excess profits or “reserve funds.” (Please refer to enclosures)

Unlike school districts, state law does not require charter schools to align or reconcile tuition payments with actual costs at the end of the year. There is no ceiling on the amount of surplus funds charter schools can carry-over in their general fund reserves.

In addition, charter school funding formulas in Pennsylvania can create tuition inequities, and in some instances, result in districts providing subsides to students from other districts.

Mr. Wagner recommended the following corrective actions:

· Establish a tuition rate based on the actual cost of educating students, including special education students.

· Require charter schools to perform reconciliations at the end of each school year and return any overpayments to the school districts, or collect any underpayments from the school districts.

· Specify a limit on carry-over fund balances consistent with traditional public school limits, and require any excess fund balances to be returned to the paying school districts.

· Evaluate the basis for the required state reimbursement and determine its efficiency and appropriateness in the Commonwealth’s annual budget.

· Strengthen accounting and reporting requirements specific to charter school portions of public education funding so that the public and policy makers can more precisely follow taxpayers dollars.

· Increase publicly available financial data specific to charter schools in an effort to provide the public and policy makers with reliable and accessible data.

( A pair of senators plan to introduce what they believe to be an innovative way to pay for quality education for kids of low-income households, you can read that story by clicking on Rock The Capital.)

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