Hampton school board supports charter school reform

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 | 11:00 PM

The Hampton Township School Board members unanimously voted to support a Charter School Funding Reform Resolution at their March 9 voting meeting.

HTSD School Board Member Robert Shages, who is also chair to the district policy and legislative affairs, read the Pennsylvania School Boards Association resolution to fellow board members prior to the vote.

The PSBA resolution claims that the average Pennsylvania school districts heavily fund annual mandatory payments to brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools … and “are calculated in a manner which requires districts to send more money to charter schools than is needed to operate their programs” placing the financial burden on district resources and taxpayers.

Schools that operate under a charter are divided into three general categories—charter schools, regional charter schools, and cyber charter schools.

The resolution states the formula for regular education programs is unfair because it is based on a school district’s expenditures and not what it actually costs to educate a child in the charter school, per the resolution. Also, it claims the calculation for charter special education tuition is unfair because it is also based on the special education expenditures of the school district rather than the charter school.

The tuition rate calculations are based on the school district’s expenses, they create wide discrepancies in the amount of tuition paid by different districts for the same charter school education and result in drastic overpayments to charter schools, per the resolution.

The latest data from the PA Department of Education shows that in 2017-18, total charter school tuition payments, including cyber and brick-and-mortar, were more than $1.8 billion, with $519 million of that total paid by districts for tuition to cyber charter schools, as noted in the PSBA resolution.

More PDE data shows that in 2014-15, school districts paid charter schools more than $100 million for special education services in excess of what charter schools reported spending on special education, per the resolution.

PSBA states that Gov. Tom Wolf included charter school law reform in the 2020-21 budget that, if approved, could save state school districts an estimated $280 million per year.

However, Ana Meyers, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, issued a statement saying charter schools are the pipeline to an education that is working for more than 143,000 students in Pennsylvania.

“It’s time for the governor, the PSBA and school district leaders to stop treating charter school students as second-class citizens and become more concerned about why families are seeking their education elsewhere,” she said.

She said current charter school laws already permit charter school students to be shortchanged by allowing school districts to keep approximately 25% of their funding allocation and for some districts, like Pittsburgh Public Schools, where the percentage is much higher, said Meyers.

“These students are being used as scapegoats by fiscally irresponsible school districts that won’t curb their expenditures and instead subject their constituents to higher property taxes — all while the reserve funds of school districts soared to $4.6 billion in 2018,” per Meyers’ response to the governor’s proposal.

A charter school is an independently operated public school that does not charge students tuition as they receive the majority of funding from their students’ resident school districts. The amount a charter school receives is based upon a statutory funding formula, which requires tuition rates for both nonspecial and special education students, according to www.education.pa.gov.

“Brick-and-mortar” charter schools are teacher-led and feature face-to-face interaction at the schools’ physical facilities located within the boundaries of the school district.

A cyber charter school uses technology in order to provide a significant portion of instruction to its students through the internet or other electronic means.

Charter schools and cyber charter schools must be organized as public, nonprofit corporations. An example of a local cyber charter school is Pennsylvania Distance Learning, within the North Allegheny School District, per education.pa.gov.

The Chief Executive Officer for PA Distance Learning Patricia Rossetti said that for their cyber school students they receive less per year per student compared to a student attending a traditional public school.

She said each individual school district is to complete a PDE 363-Funding for Charter Schools calculation each school year. It’s to be used by local school districts to determine the annual average cost of educating a regular education student in the district and special education students, the latter a detailed complicated, tiered system, said Rossetti.

She said as local education agencies, they are held to the same state and federal mandates as all other public schools, she said. And 15 Public Cyber Charter Schools serve students from 498 of Pennsylvania’s 500 School Districts.

Money isn’t taken away from the public school but follows the student from their home school district to a public charter school when a parent makes a choice for their child’s public-school education to take place in a charter school, according to a PCPCS fact sheet.

HTSD Board President Bryant Wesley asked HTSD Superintendent Dr. Michael Loughead his opinion on the matter.

Loughead said it’s a positive move, saying that what the charter schools receive in funding does not seem to be in line with what they cost to operate and finds it unfair to the taxpayer. He found that regional superintendents agree with the PSBA position.

“I think it’s an appropriate time for reform,” he said.

HTSD School Board member Greg Stein added charter schools advertise as tuition-free, when the taxpayers are helping fund it.

In response to whether Rossetti thinks charter school funding needs revisions, Rossetti said, “All public school funding needs to be revised as the inequities across Pennsylvania in the education children receive based on a zip code is unsettling. The public cyber charter school CEOs through PCPCS have proposed several bills in Harrisburg to address concerns with transparency and funding. I am willing to be at the table with anyone wishing to dive into this complicated and difficult conversation.”

More of the PCPCS statement can be found atpacharters.org.

A complete version of the PSBA resolution can be found onpsba.org.