Monday, April 18, 2022

PA: What would charter reform save your local taxpayers?

School funding in Pennsylvania has a variety of problems, and the system of funding charter schools in the state exacerbates all of them. But there are some quick, simple reforms, long backed by Governor Tom Wolf (and opposed by a GOP controlled legislature) that would make a serious improvement for local taxpayers across the state. And now there's a handy resource for telling Pennsylvania taxpayers exactly what the difference would be (and who to lean on to get it done).

The two problems being addressed are pretty simple to grasp.

1) Pennsylvania cyber-schools are paid a per-pupil fee based on the cost-per-pupil of the sending school district. So the amount used to educate a student in a building with a full staff of teachers and heat and all the physical resources--that same amount is handed over to a cyber school that gives the students a computer, a printer, and 1/500th of a teacher. It is no wonder that cybers are swimming in so much money they can make their owners rich and still spend millions on marketing. Or, as one of my former superintendents told me on his way out the door, "Quit your job and go start a cyber school--it's like printing money."

2) Charter funding for students with special needs is nuts. PA special ed spending in public schools is organized in tiers, with costs and funding correlated to severity of student needs. Charters, however, are just given the funding for the average cost of special needs students, which means that even if the student has low-cost requirements (e.g. an hour of speech therapy a week), the charter still collects the funding for a student with higher level needs.

The solutions aren't terribly difficult. Set the cyber school tuition costs to a reasonable approximation of what cyber schooling a student actually costs. Set special ed tuition levels to reflect what the student's needs actually cost. 

Would it make a difference in your local fuinding? You can see the results of these two simple reforms right here. Education Voters of Pennsylvania has created a data base linked to a two-page form. Find your school district. Click on it. Download a two page form that show how much your district would recoup of the money it should have kept anyway, plus a quick explanation of what's behind these costs, and a list of which legislators need some attention. Download the two page form, print it off, hand it out to school board members, local officials, fellow taxpayers. It's quick and simple. Here's a sample of what it looks like:

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