The Pennsylvania Republican Party, with the aid of such bought-and-paid-for State Senators like Democrat Anthony Williams, has been vehemently pro-charter school, particularly with Governor Tom Corbett riding that bandwagon. Given this, I was surprised to see Republican State Rep. Mike Fleck propose legislation to reign in charters.
Charter schools are public schools administered by private boards with public funds and, as such, have accountability issues. While there are many examples of fraud and abuse, one striking example is the Pocono Mountain Charter School, which saw its charter status revoked for diverting funds to a church (the actual building itself doubles as a church). This is what happens when there is little public oversight. Presumably because the Corbett-administration is so charter-friendly, the revocation was denied. The Auditor General, however, stepped in and stated that evidence indicated the school, had, in fact, deserved the revocation.
Since Governor Corbett isn’t interested in accountability, this bill would do what he will not: add some level of regulation to charter schools.
In fact, Rep. Fleck says it best:
“More regulation of charter and cyber charter schools is desperately needed. 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.”
The near-bankruptcy of the Chester-Uppland School District drew widespread attention to the amount of money charter schools drain from public schools. A more equitable funding structure — which this bill provides — would aid not just Chester-Uppland, but financially struggling schools across the state (which is roughly all of them, given the massive cuts they’ve seen under the Corbett administration).
Some of the regulatory changes in HB 2364 include (some are taken directly from Rep. Fleck’s page linked above, some paraphrased):
- Remove the “double dip” for pension costs which are not now subtracted from district expenditures, saving taxpayers an estimated half billion dollars within five years.
- 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 schools.
- Change the funding formula for education costs.
- Establish year-end audits.
- Prevent the use of public funds to advertise charter school enrollment.
In traditional public schools, school directors are answerable to the voting public. A charter board is not. Each facet of this bill will go a long way to improve the situation many districts are faced with, but will not fix the fundamental problem with charters: that they are publicly funded, privately-administered entities.