HARRISBURG, Pa. (WENY) — Monday, school officials and lawmakers called for charter reform and changes to Pennsylvania’s charter law. The Keystone Center for Charter Change says mandatory charter school tuition payments are costing school districts and taxpayers millions of dollars, with little transparency.
Over 90-percent of Pennsylvania school boards say their district needs charter reform to avoid cutting staffing, programs and services for students.
“These school boards are telling us the same thing that data and our students have been telling us for years: Pennsylvania’s privately run, publicly funded charter schools are failing our taxpayers,” said Sen. Lindsay Williams (D-Allegheny). “Particularly egregious, is what cyber charters do with this money, spending millions of taxpayer dollars on advertising and executive salaries, all while carrying these high fund balances and enticing families with the promise of ‘free money and free tuition.’ It’s not free. It’s taxpayer dollars,” she added.
It’s been over ten years since the state’s charter law was updated. School board officials say it’s time to level the playing field.
“It’s time to level the playing field and ensure all public schools- all public schools play by the same set of rules,” said David Schaap, President of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA).
Schaap says budget pressures from charters are forcing school boards to make difficult choices.
“They can raise local taxes on their friends and neighbors, or they can cut programs and services provided to students, or both. That’s just not fair to our taxpayers or our students,” said Schaap, who added that taxpayers deserve answers and transparency. “Unlike traditional school boards, which are elected from their local communities, charter schools are not required to include any representation from the communities and parents they serve on their boards,” he added.
Schapp also pointed to funding and tuitions payments to cyber charter institutions, which he says do not have the same expenses as brick-and-mortar charters.
“Cyber charter schools simply do not have the same level of expenses as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, yet they are paid as if they do,” said Schapp.
Democrats in both the House and Senate hope their charter accountability legislation will make it across the finish line during this session.
“I am not saying we should get rid of charters, but it should be an even playing field. This is the time, there are no more excuses not to see this bill go over,” said Rep. Joe Ciresi (D-Montgomery), the sponsor of House Bill 272 in the 2021-2022 session.
Republican Chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford/Fulton) shared the following statement with WENY News:
“Charter and cyber charter public schools are a viable and important option for many families around the Commonwealth. We need to ensure that all of our public schools are operating at high standards for the most important stakeholder group in education — our kids.”
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