Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale recently audited two struggling Allegheny County school districts and said the findings point to a larger problem in the commonwealth: a lack of funding and ineffective charter school laws.
DePasquale said Duquesne City School District is over the cliff financially and the Sto-Rox School District is teetering on the edge.
“These are not the only two school districts in Pennsylvania that are facing these challenges,” DePasquale said. “Other districts have faced these challenges. We need to look at what has worked in those areas and what has not to try and help the ones who are still in these challenges to get out of it.”
DePasquale said in order to being to address the problem, the Legislature needs to address the way charter schools are funded, because the current formula hurts already-financially stressed school districts.
“The Sto-Rox school district paid more than $2.5 million to charter schools and was getting reimbursed at about $400,000,” he said. “Today they’re still paying that $2.5 million but not getting the $400,000 reimbursement.”
That was in the 2010-2011 school year. The reimbursement was eliminated in the state’s 2011-2012 annual budget. Duquesne City Schools paid $1.9 million and got back $600,000 before the reimbursement was cut.
DePasquale is urging districts that have struggled and had success coming out of hardships to reach out to troubled districts and share best practices. Duquesne City Schools has been in receivership, or under state control, since spring 2013. DePasquale said that has not worked in other districts.
“It hasn’t worked for the simple reason that these issues are well beyond who’s running it,” he said. “It’s a concentration of poverty in various areas of the state; it’s the way the state funds education, and our charter law which completely changes the student body population without addressing that in a comprehensive way.”
DePasquale said a series of hearings will be held across the state starting in the fall. The goal is to formulate a comprehensive plan that can be presented to the state legislature.