“Today is an attack on a law that is being broken”

Frustrated by the growing payments their districts have made to send students to charter schools, suburban Philadelphia superintendents on Monday called on legislative leaders to support changes that would lower their costs and keep more money in schools traditional public.

At a press conference outside Evergreen Elementary School in Collegeville, superintendents from the Perkiomen Valley, Upper Dublin, Norristown and Quakertown school districts joined lawmakers and advocates calling for changes to school funding. charter for years.

“This is not an attack on a parent’s right to choose the best educational setting for their child,” said Norristown Superintendent Christopher Dormer. “But today is an attack on a law that is being broken,” with “biased formulas that have resulted in drastic overpayments” to charters, with “little or no control over how those dollars are spent.” expenses”.

Funding for charter schools — which are independently run — has long been controversial in Pennsylvania, with traditional public schools accusing charters of draining their budgets and forcing property tax increases. The charters argue that they provide families with needed alternatives and should not lose funding.

But as districts have faced mounting costs — not just for charters, but for special education services and payments in the state retirement system — advocates say charter funding is only gaining in importance.

In the Perkiomen Valley, district costs to send students on charters have increased more than 55% since 2015, Superintendent Barbara Russell said.

“It takes money away from students who attend our school district,” Russell said. While the district has its own virtual learning programs, the money it has to pay for students to attend cyber charter schools “where the accountability is very different…raises many questions.”

READ MORE: Pennsylvania is the nation’s ‘cybercharter capital’, with implications for funding and oversight, report says

Cyber-charter schools have been a particular source of contention for superintendents and traditional advocates of public schools, both for poor performance on standardized tests and for their costs. Because cyber schools — which have seen enrollment skyrocket during the pandemic — are state-sanctioned, school districts have no authority over them, while districts have some oversight over brick and mortar. mortar. But they are funded by the districts in the same way as these charters: based on enrollment, at a rate derived from what the districts themselves spend per student.

Given Pennsylvania’s heavy reliance on local taxes to fund public education and the vastly different tax bases between rich and poor communities, school districts’ expenditures—and thus their reimbursement rates to charters—can vary widely.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has called for a statewide payment rate for cybercharters, among other funding and accountability changes. But the Republican-led legislature did not pass his proposal.

A spokesman for Senate Speaker Jake Corman (R., Center) declined to comment on the draft legislation Monday. But “if there are concerns about the rising costs associated with charter schools, the first question we should ask ourselves is why students are leaving these schools. [traditional public] schools first,” spokesperson Jason Thompson said.

Jean Morrow, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said a statewide tuition rate for cybercharters was “inflexible and unfair.” She also said a bill incorporating Wolf’s proposal sponsored by Rep. Joe Ciresi, a Montgomery County Democrat, “would result in hundreds of millions of dollars being cut from public charter schools.”

“It does not advance justice, equity and quality in the public education system,” Morrow said. She said the coalition instead endorses a bill introduced by Rep. Jesse Topper (R., Bedford) that would give districts additional money to offset charter costs, but would not change funding for charters.

Superintendents said broader reforms were needed. “I’ll tell you, it doesn’t cost $14,000 a year to educate a child in an all-virtual environment,” Dormer said, referring to what Norristown pays per student participating in cybercharts. In contrast, he said, it costs the district $5,500 to educate a student entirely online.

Meanwhile, for special education students attending cybercharters, Norristown pays $34,000 per student, Dormer said — another issue cited by superintendents Monday, noting the higher rates their districts pay for any student. deemed by charter to require special education services.

More than half of students leaving the Upper Dublin School District for cybercharts are identified as requiring special education or other intervention, Superintendent Steven Yanni said. Bill Harner, superintendent of the Quakertown Community School District, said one-third of students in his district who enroll in e-charters are classified by their new schools as having a disability.

“Why are they reclassified? Because it’s a cash cow,” Harner said. “It’s a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money.”

READ MORE: Special education costs in Pennsylvania are rising, but the state isn’t footing the bill. Children in poorer neighborhoods are ‘losers’, says new report

More than 430 of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts have passed a resolution calling for charter funding changes, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Larry Feinberg, a longtime member of the Haverford Township School Board and director of the Keystone Center for Charter Change, which is supported by the school boards association and organized the press conference with the advocacy group Children First, said it wasn’t just “a bunch of Southeastern Pennsylvania Democrats” supporting the issue.

Of the 70 lawmakers cosponsoring Ciresi’s bill, 20% are Republicans, Feinberg said. (Among those who joined the superintendents on Monday was Tracy Pennicuick, a Montgomery County Republican.)

For school districts — especially those with more limited funding — the current charter funding system means “fewer resources to pay for things like math coaches, reading coaches, nurses, counselors,” a said Feinberg. “The impact is palpable, and it’s real.”

About Homer Yonker

Check Also

Addressing anxiety in children as early as kindergarten could reduce its harmful effects

Summary: Early childhood anxiety has been linked to persistent anxiety, depression, and other mental health …