Tuesday, August 13, 2019 (Mechanicsburg, PA) – Today, Governor Tom Wolf is calling for reform of the currently flawed funding system for charter and cyber charter schools and strengthening accountability and transparency. PSBA is pleased to see the Governor take action both by pushing much needed regulatory reform and proposing comprehensive legislation. PSBA has long-supported efforts to promote a level playing field between charter schools and traditional public schools, and has continuously called for desperately needed funding reform.
Our current funding system allows for drastically different tuition amounts from school districts for similarly situated students, without regard to the charter schools’ actual program costs. Based on preliminary numbers for the 2019-20 school year, school district tuition payments to charter and cyber charter schools range from $9,052 per student for one district to $21,602 per student for another district for the same education. When it comes to special education costs, the range is even more dramatic, as one district is paying $17,939 per student, while another is paying $48,522 per student, regardless of the severity of the student’s special educational needs.
Digging further into special education funding for charter schools, we know with certainty that school districts are over-paying charter schools for special education students. In 2016, a PSBA analysis of charter school special education revenue and spending estimated that charter schools received $100 million more than the reported spending on special education. Further, we have seen that special education overpayments are exacerbated in cyber charter schools. 21.8% of cyber charter students were identified for special education, compared to 16.8% in traditional school districts.
Furthermore, when looking at cyber charter school funding we find that school districts paid cyber charter schools more than $519 million in 2017-18. The average school district paid slightly more than $1 million in cyber charter tuition, and 37 school districts paid more than $2 million in cyber charter tuition payments. It is important to note that the academic performance of cyber charter schools is significantly lower than brick-and-mortar charter schools which also lag behind traditional public schools. In fact, none of Pennsylvania's cyber charter schools, which are authorized by the state, 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 2 of the 15 cyber charter schools were not identified for support and improvement.
PSBA CEO, Nathan G. Mains commented, “We are glad the Governor has recognized the crisis, which has developed in charter school funding, accountability, performance, and transparency, and applaud his announced intention to prioritize action to reform this sector of education.”
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.