On February 4, 2020, Gov. Wolf highlighted the need for charter reform as part of his 2020-21 state budget plan. The spending plan includes $280 million coming from projected savings gained from proposed charter school funding reforms. In conjunction with the call for charter funding reforms, the governor’s office announced that legislation to enact comprehensive changes is being introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives.

In the same way that PSBA worked with the Senate and House of Representatives on their charter proposals, the association is pleased to be working very closely with the Governor to develop his plan to achieve significant charter reforms.

Savings through charter funding reform
The 2020-21 budget proposes comprehensive Charter School Law reform that will save school districts across the commonwealth an estimated $280 million per year. This would be accomplished by:

  • Applying the special education formula to all charter schools (estimated to save $147 million annually)
  • Establishing a statewide cyber charter tuition rate of $9,500 per student per year (estimated to save $133 million annually)
  • Improving the redirection process. Currently, if a school district does not pay the tuition for its resident students who attend a charter school or there is a dispute between a school district and a charter on tuition payments, the charter school may petition PDE to reconcile the dispute through the redirection process. The budget proposal provides clarification on the redirection process, including the basis for reported expenditures and the deductions included in the tuition rate calculation, to increase fairness, accountability, and transparency.

Comprehensive charter reform package
A 120-page proposal, introduced as House Bill 2261 by Rep. Joseph Ciresi (D-Montgomery), and Senate Bill 1024, introduced by Senators Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) and James Brewster (D-Allegheny). The legislation includes these components:

Transparency

  1. Apply and better enforce same financial and ethics requirements that apply to school board directors and district officials
  2. Require charter school meetings to comply with the Sunshine Act
  3. Public vetting of the records of Education Management Organizations (EMOs)
  4. Addresses potential conflicts of interest between charter schools, their trustees, and contractors
  5. Prohibits charter advertising from saying the cost is “free”

Performance and outcomes

  1. Create a standard state framework for charter school applications
  2. Create a process for charter amendments – material terms of charter
    • Change of location or new facility
    • Change in EMO or curriculum provider
    • Change in grade levels served
    • Enrollment expansion

3. Require the creation of an accountability matrix to evaluate

    • Academic performance
    • Operations
    • Governance
    • Financial management

4. Moratorium on the creation of new cyber charter schools

Funding reforms

  1. Establish a flat statewide cyber charter school tuition rate of $9,500
  2. Apply the special education funding formula recommendations to charter schools
  3. Legislates using actual expenditures in tuition rate calculations instead of budgeted
  4. Expands list of expenses that can be deducted from tuition calculation
    • Federal funds
    • Payments to charter schools
    • Grants/gifts to school district
    • And more

The governor’s budget proposal includes these estimated savings from charter reform:

Proposal Estimated Savings to School Districts
Statewide cyber tuition rate $133 million
Special education formula $147 million
TOTAL $280 million

Check out www.pacharterchange.org for more facts and figures demonstrating the need for charter reform.

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