Harrisburg, Pa., Oct. 4, 2023 – Today, school board directors, superintendents and administrators convened at the Capitol to urge the General Assembly to make updates to Pennsylvania’s 21-year-old cyber charter school law as part of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association’s (PSBA) Advocacy Week.
During a midday press conference, PSBA CEO Nathan Mains stated, “School districts appreciate the General Assembly’s prioritization of public education in recent years. However, budget pressure from mandated costs such as charter school tuition payments prevent those state investments from reaching district classrooms and providing relief for local taxpayers.”
In the last four annual PSBA State of Education reports, mandatory charter school tuition payments, which total nearly $2.7 billion, have been the biggest source of budget pressure for school districts. Locally elected school directors have rallied for relief, with more than 93% of school boards across the commonwealth passing resolutions calling for charter school reform.
Without this much needed reform, school communities will continue to struggle to find the local resources needed to pay for increases in charter tuition costs and to make investments in their own educational programs and school infrastructure. This often means school leaders “are faced with increasing property taxes or making cuts to programs and services intended for the very students they are charged to educate just to balance their budgets,” Mains continued.
Mains cited House Bill 1422 as a “a unique opportunity to provide additional resources for school districts without increasing spending in the state budget.”
HB 1422, which was passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives with a bipartisan vote of 122 to 81, would provide much needed reform to our state’s antiquated charter school law as it relates to cyber charter schools. HB 1422 would create a statewide tuition rate for cyber charter schools, impose basic accountability and transparency requirements on cyber charter school operators, and make many other updates to the 21+ year old law on cyber charter schools.
Mains remarks were followed by school leaders and legislators who spoke about how charter school reform would impact their schools and taxpayers.
Rob Gleason, resident for the Keystone Center for Charter Change and current President of the Westmont Hilltop School District board of directors, closed the press conference by emphasizing that charter reform is a bipartisan issue.
“We owe it to our children and to the taxpayers to make sure that we are doing everything possible so that students are getting the best education and that we are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. We know that charter schools are part of that solution. However, the current charter school law produces shortfalls in each of those areas,” Gleason stated.
Gleason highlighted that every cyber charter school in operation has been identified as being in need of improvement, and that proficiency on state assessments and graduations rates at charter schools have, on average, been substantially lower than those of traditional local public schools.
He also called attention to the fact that the boards that operate charter schools are not elected and are not required to include any representation from the community which they serve. Charter schools also lack the transparency to taxpayers that public schools are required to maintain. Charter schools can contract with for-profit companies to run virtually all operations of the school. Once a charter school enters into one of these contracts, the public loses the ability to see how their money is being spent.
Gleason closed his remarks by encouraging Republicans, like the 20 who voted in favor of HB 1422, to “support reforms that ensure public education funds are spent efficiently and appropriately; that charter schools are as accountable and transparent as other public schools; and preserve and strengthen educational choice by bolstering the law to ensure only quality charter school options are available to students and families.”
PSBA urges the Senate to take action this fall to pass cyber charter reform to provide relief for Pennsylvania’s 500 public schools districts.