Legislation introduced in the state House aims to increase accountability and transparency in the funding of charter schools in Pennsylvania.
The sponsor, Representative Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon), said House Bill 2364 would change the current funding formula used to determine school districts' tuition payments for students who enroll in charter and cyber charter schools. The bill would eliminate non-instructional services, such as athletic funds, from those tuition payments. Fleck said his proposal would also eliminate what he calls the "double dip" for pension costs which are currently not subtracted from school district expenditures. He said this would save taxpayers an estimated half billion dollars within five years.
In addition, the measure would require an annual audit to document if charter and cyber charter schools are being paid for the actual cost of educating students and prohibit the use of funding to pay for advertising meant to increase charter school enrollment. It would also put a cap on charter schools' unused fund balances.
"These [charter] schools can just take money from the school districts, X amount goes to the students, and they're hiring lobbyists to push further expansion without the accountability," Fleck said.
Fleck said his interest for change in the charter school funding system came from the five years he served on the board for Southern Huntingdon County School District.
"There were students who had inquired about joining a cyber school and within a couple days they had a computer on their doorstep and everything else, and the school district got the bill," Fleck said. "There just wasn't a lot of oversight there."
Fleck said charter schools are "here to stay" and the legislation will not shut them down, but he thinks they need to be held to the same accountability as regular public schools in the state.
"It's public education, but yet most of these [charter] schools are for-profit companies," Fleck said. "You have some great schools out there who are providing a great education, but then also you have companies behind this and if it wasn't profitable, they wouldn't be in the education business."
The Executive Director for the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, Robert Fayfitch said there are hidden components in the legislation that make it a "wolf in sheep's clothing" particularly concerning special ed students enrolling in charter schools. He admits there are problems in the system, but doesn't agree with Fleck's solution.
"What we need is an independent and comprehensive review of the entire funding process for charter schools via school districts," Fayfitch said.
According to the state Department of Education there are more than 90,000 students enrolled in 154 charter and cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania.