Fleck Introduces Charter and Cyber Charter School Reform Bill
HARRISBURG – Citing the need for greater oversight of publically-funded charter and cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania, state Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon/Blair/Mifflin) today announced he has introduced legislation to amend the state’s Public School Code regarding the operation of these schools.
Fleck was joined at a Capitol news conference by other lawmakers, public school administrators, school board members and representatives from education-related organizations who support his proposal, including the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO), Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) and Pennsylvania Association for Rural and Small Schools (PARSS).
“More regulation of charter and cyber charter schools is desperately needed,” said Fleck. “The current funding formula is flawed and it’s costing state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. School districts are overpaying because the formula is based on what they spend on educating a student and not what it actually costs a charter or cyber charter school to do the same.”
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, there are currently 167 charter and cyber schools operating in the Commonwealth with a total enrollment of more than 105,000 students – 154 brick-and-mortar charter schools with 72,714 students and 13 cyber charter schools with 32,322 students.
House Bill 2364 would change the current funding formula used to determine school district tuition payments for students who attend charter and cyber charter schools to:
• Remove the “double dip” for pension costs which are not now subtracted from
district expenditures, saving taxpayers an estimated half billion dollars within five
• Eliminate non-instructional services from tuition payments, including athletic
funds, non-public school programs and services, and the tuition payments
themselves as they are unrelated to operational costs.
• Limit unassigned fund balances and make them consistent with traditional public
House Bill 2364 would change the funding formula for special education costs as well. It would also establish a year-end audit process to ensure charter and cyber charter schools are being paid for the actual cost of educating students. Those audits would be made available to the public to create greater transparency. In addition, the measure would prohibit the use of funding to pay for advertising to promote the enrollment in a charter or cyber charter school.
“Charter and cyber charter funding formulas must be reflective of actual instructional expenses, predictable and based on logic,” said PSBA Executive Director Thomas Gentzel. “House Bill 2364 provides much-needed charter school accountability to protect taxpayers and school entities from escalating costs.”
“The flawed charter school law is open to abuse without any accountability to Commonwealth taxpayers,” said Laura Cowburn, assistant to the superintendent for business services of the Columbia Borough School District. “Taxpayers in my school district must pay more than $24,000 per special education student enrolled in charter and cyber charter schools, even though my district educates such students at a lower cost, or a charter or cyber charter school’s actual special education costs for such a student may be less. House Bill 2364 would cure this flaw in the charter school law.”
“The charter school funding formula allows for future increases in retirement costs to be compounded and artificially grow charter school tuition,” said Solanco School District Business Manager Tim Shrom. “Unless fixed, the flawed formula will have an ever-growing impact on Pennsylvania taxpayers. It is conservatively estimated that in the next six years my district’s taxpayers will pay an additional $406,000 to charter and cyber charter schools, while the impact is more than $510 million dollars statewide.”
In the large, rural and economically depressed Mifflin County School District, payments for students attending either charter or cyber charter schools exceeded $767,000 for the 2010-11 school year. The district’s costs for the current school year are expected to increase to approximately $975,000 for 125 students in cyber charter schools and four in brick-and-mortar charter schools.
“Our taxpayers are being unfairly burdened by these costs that are far above what it actually costs to educate those 129 children,” said Mifflin County School District Superintendent James Estep. “It is the 5,036 students in our traditional schools who are the ones really being cheated. All we are asking for is a level playing field.”
Last December, Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner called on the General Assembly to make changes in the funding formula for charter and cyber charter schools. Wagner cited an audit report that found taxpayers spent $936 million on charter and cyber charter schools during the 2008-09 school year, which included $225 million in questionable reimbursements to school districts because the actual educational costs were unknown.
“My legislation ensures that taxpayers are paying for the cost of educating students in charter and cyber charter schools – no more, no less,” said Fleck.
House Bill 2364 currently has 36 co-sponsors and has bipartisan support.
For more information on Fleck and his legislative priorities, visit RepFleck.com
State Representative Mike Fleck
81st District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Andy Briggs