Contact: Annette Stevenson
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(Mechanicsburg, PA) Wednesday, August 14, 2019 – Today the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) presented testimony to the Senate Education Committee concerning charter school funding, calling for reform of the current flawed system that requires school districts and taxpayers to provide tuition payments to charter and cyber charter schools without regard to the actual program costs of those schools.
Representing the association was Tom Bullington, school board president, and Dr. Allen Sell, superintendent, of the Bedford Area School District. They told the committee that charter and cyber charter schools receive drastically different tuition amounts from school districts for similarly situated students, and without regard to the charter schools’ actual program costs. This results in overpayments being made to charter schools.
The testimony noted that, based on preliminary numbers for the 2019-20 school year, school district tuition payments to charter and cyber charter schools range from about $9,000 per student for one district to more than $21,000 per student for another district for the same education. Regarding special education costs, the range is even more dramatic, with district costs ranging from $18,000 to more than $48,000 per student, regardless of the severity of the student’s special educational needs.
Bullington and Sell would also like to see funding changes for those districts that operate their own cyber programs. In 2017-18, school districts paid cyber charter schools more than $519 million.
“Bedford Area School District currently operates its own cyber education program at a cost of about $3,500 per student, yet we pay more than $10,000 for each non-special education student who enrolls in a cyber charter school,” Bullington said.
The testimony also emphasized that the academic performance of cyber schools is significantly lower than brick-and-mortar charter schools and lag even more behind traditional public schools. In fact, none of Pennsylvania's cyber charter schools earned passing grades during the five years
when the state issued School Performance Profile scores. Under the state’s new accountability system, the Future Ready PA Index, only two of the 15 cyber charter schools were not identified for support and improvement.
“Accountability, transparency and educational outcomes are important areas of the charter school landscape that need reform, but, without question, creating a fair and more accurate funding system for charter and cyber charter schools is the most immediately pressing concern to school boards,” said PSBA Chief Executive Officer Nathan G. Mains.
“Now is the time for the General Assembly to bring specific changes to the formula to give school districts and taxpayers needed relief. School boards across Pennsylvania welcome these conversations and urge enactment of such changes as quickly as possible,” Mains added.
PSBA is a nonprofit statewide association of public school boards, pledged to the highest ideals of local lay leadership for the public schools of the commonwealth. Founded in 1895, PSBA was the first school boards association established in the United States.