EAST FALLS NOW ARTICLE: Charter Schools are Public Schools

In 1997 the charter school bill was signed into law.

Charter schools include brick and mortar schools and cyber charter schools.  All are funded with state tax dollars.

Charter schools were designed to provide innovative educational alternatives for Pennsylvania students. Charter schools were designed to: improve pupil learning, increase educational opportunities for students, encourage innovative teaching methods, provide varied opportunities for teachers, including responsibility for the educational program, provide parents with educational choices, and meet measurable academic standards.

Charter schools are non-profit, public schools originally designed as an innovative educational alternative to traditional public schools. As such, they are free of many of the mandates governing traditional public schools except mandates and laws related to nondiscrimination, health, safety, suspension/ expulsion of students, academic assessments and federal special education law.

Charter schools can be created by a variety of entities, including community members, parents, teachers, business people and non-religious colleges or universities. Charter schools are authorized by the district’s school board of which the brick and mortar buildings are located within the physical boundaries of the authorizing district. A cyber charter school is an alternative type of charter school, authorized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), that uses the Internet or other electronic/ digital method to provide instruction to students.

When enrolling students, charter schools must give preference to students currently residing in the local authorizing school district. Entry is awarded through a lottery system when more students apply than the charter school can accommodate. Students who do not reside in the local school district may be enrolled in the charter if space is available. Charter schools may also give preference to students with siblings currently attending the charter school. Charter schools must admit students regardless of any disability and cannot use any method of student selection that would be illegal in a traditional public-school district. Cyber charter schools may enroll students from anywhere in the state.

Currently, there are about 143,000 students enrolled in both brick and mortar and cyber charter schools throughout the Commonwealth.

There is no set tuition rate for an individual charter or cyber charter school; the tuition payment is solely based on what each student’s home district costs were the previous year.  This means, a charter or cyber school might receive tuition from one student of $12,000 and tuition of $18,000 for another simply based on where the student resides.

Now that we have covered some history and facts about charter schools, I am sharing the charter school funding reforms proposed in the Governor’s 2020-2021 budget. The two proposed reforms will save taxpayers $280 million per year.

In the Governor’s proposed 2020-2021 budget he calls for applying the special education funding formula applied to traditional public schools to charter schools.

Currently charter schools receive a flat rate for special needs, regardless of the degree of the special needs of their students.  By applying the existing four-tiered formula, the Governor is eliminating the flat rate and proposing that charter schools be funded for their special needs students based on the degree of special needs. Traditional public schools are funded in this manner for their special needs students; with funding tied to the needs of the students. Charter schools are objecting to this change because historically, the often-robust payments they have been receiving will be greatly reduced; as current payments are in excess of the services required by their special needs students, in many instances.

The Governor is also proposing that cyber charter schools be paid a flat tuition rate.  Currently, cyber charters are paid tuition based on the per pupil cost of where the cyber student lives, and the school district must remit the per pupil cost for that district.  This per pupil cost has no relation to the cost of operating the cyber charter school.

I have long supported charter school funding reform, including looking at the payment structure and in particular where a for profit management company may be in place. The Governor’s proposal of these reforms provides this opportunity for reform, yet again.

For more information on charter schools please see the PDE website at: https://www.education.pa.gov/K-12/Charter%20Schools/Pages/default.aspx