Charter School Funding Reform: Fair reforms will provide savings for districts
School leaders ask that the General Assembly reform the unfair system for charter school tuition. Every Pennsylvania school district, regardless of its size, location, and wealth, makes payments to these schools for resident students who are enrolled. The charter school funding formula has not been changed since it was created 23 years ago. The current method for funding charter schools contains several flaws which result in inconsistencies and millions of taxpayer dollars in overpayments to charter schools. The needed reforms must be predictable, accurate and reflect the actual costs to educate students in regular and special education programs. For a deeper explanation, facts and figures on charter school funding, go to https://www.pacharterchange.org/
- School districts are spending millions of dollars each year in mandated payments to charter schools because the unfair calculations used to set these tuitions results in inconsistencies and overpayments to charter schools.
- The tuition rate calculation is based on the district’s expenses, creating significant variations in rates. Further, the calculation does not consider what charter schools need to provide an education. This is particularly true for cyber charters. Without much of the overhead of traditional districts and brick-and-mortar charter schools, cyber charters benefit from receiving inflated tuition rates. The calculation also includes several district costs that charter schools either do not or may not have.
- In 2018-19, school districts in total spent over $2 billion in charter school tuition payments, an increase of 12.2% over last year and 185% over 10 years.
- More than $605 million of that total was paid to cyber charters, an increase of 16.6% over last year.
- Payments to brick-and-mortar charter schools was over $1.4 billion, up 10.4% over last year.
- We need a new system that is tied to the actual costs to educate a child enrolled in a charter school. Overpayments are being made and this is particularly true for cyber charters. One option would be to establish an appropriate statewide tuition rate for cyber charter school students.
- School districts are overpaying charters for special education. Although the special education funding formula was updated in 2014 to more accurately target resources for students identified with high, moderate and low needs, the changes were applied only to school districts and not to charter schools. A 2016 study of PDE charter school enrollment data found that districts paid charters more than $100 million more for special education than charters reported spending on special education.
- Charter funding reform will create savings that will stay within the district, benefitting all their students while controlling costs. Districts will be able to reinvest their funds to their students and their classrooms.