Friday, January 27, 2023

PA: 445 School Districts Call For Charter Reform

Charter funding in Pennsylvania is a miserable mess. Well, it's a miserable mess if you're not running a charter school; if you are running a charter school, Pennsylvania is like Christmas All The Time.

There are several major issues with the twenty-five-year-old funding rules.

One is that charters, for some arcane reason, are reimbursed for students with special needs at the same high rate. Students with inexpensive special needs are a cash cow in this state, simply illustrated by this piece of research from the PA School Boards Association:

In 2014-2015, school districts paid out $294.8 million in special ed supplement money to charter schools.

In 2014-2015, charter schools spent $193.1 million on special ed services.

Another is that cyber-charters are reimbursed at the same per-pupil rate as brick and mortar schools. Of all the advice I haven't taken, I rank a former superintendent of mine, who, on his way out the door, told me to get into running a cyber-charter because "it's easier than printing money." It's similar--except that the money is being drained from actual public school systems

Add to that the fact that cyber-charters are mostly not audited at all. Like our tax credit scholarship system, our cyber-school system makes money disappear into a black hole where nobody can see what has become of it

There are other issues, such as huge differences between charter rates for different districts. 

Local school districts have noticed. My old district noticed a lot the year that they had a $800K bill for cyber charter students and closed an elementary school building on the theory that it would save about $800K. 

Tom Wolf tried to get the legislature to budge on fixing some of this, but budge they did not. Charter supporters squealed like pigs being pulled away from the trough. Harrisburg is heavily lobbied by the charter industry (after all--charters have plenty of extra money to throw around). 

But in the meantime, school districts across the state have been steadily joining the cause and passing resolutions calling for charter reform. Pennsylvania is a diverse state, and the 500 school districts in the state represent everything from deep MAGA red to wide sky blue. And yet, there are now 445 districts that have passed some version of a resolution calling for the legislature to bring the charter funding rules into the 21st century. Now if only Harrisburg would pay attention. 

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