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. Pennsylvania created charter schools in 1997, following 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.
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. As a result, school districts overpay charter schools for special education students. The special education funding formula creates three tiers of special education tuition rates based on actual special education enrollment and weighted costs of providing a special education program to each eligible student according to several factors. Not including charter schools in this formula creates another double standard by which a charter school and a traditional public school would receive different amounts of funding to educate the same child. This system must apply equally to charter schools just as it applies to school districts.