PSBA Legislative Priority Issue: Enact Meaningful Charter School Reforms

Charter schools are public schools, but by their very nature they have been designed through state law and regulation to be both equal and unequal to traditional public school districts. Created in Pennsylvania in 1997, the state has followed a national trend toward privatizing public education in the name of providing innovations in education and public school choice. The law exempts charters from many of the state’s statutory and regulatory requirements, creating an uneven playing field that has not led to a transparent, accountable or high-performing system of education.

PSBA believes that the state must enact comprehensive and meaningful reforms to the Charter School Law to level the playing field between charters and traditional public schools. These reforms should address areas of charter school operations, funding and accountability. Charter schools and educational management organizations (EMOs) should be subject to the same laws and regulations that all public schools must follow, including the same financial, academic and ethical accountability standards as school districts. In addition, the special education funding formula established under Act 126 of 2014 should apply equally to charter schools just as it does to school districts. The current flawed special education tuition calculation requires school districts to pay charter schools regardless of the costs of services provided and results in the overpayment of district funds to charter schools for special education students.

Cyber charter funding reform

One of the key charter school reform issues is changes to the provisions and requirements for funding of cyber charter schools. The commonwealth is the sole authorizer of cyber charter schools, yet the tuition costs for students attending these schools are borne by school districts.

The current funding formula for cyber charter schools is based on school district expenditures with no relationship to the actual instructional costs for regular and special education instruction and services of the students attending the charter school. In 2016-17, school districts paid cyber charter schools more than $463 million.

The majority of cyber schools have consistently placed in the bottom 5% for educational performance in the state; further, graduation rates of cyber charters are consistently and substantially below state average. At the same time, a growing number of school districts across the state are now operating successful, high-quality, full-time cyber education programs within their traditional programs that provide flexibility and personalized options as a choice for students and families.

Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526 support school districts that provide their own high-performing cyber education programs by removing the financial responsibility for resident students who enroll in cyber charter schools instead of the districts’ programs.

PSBA is supporting these bills and will be working on charter reforms during this legislative session.