Sensible limits: A House bill would reform charter school funding

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Charter schools don't offer interscholastic athletics. They don't contribute to the cost of competing charter schools. And they can get their own state reimbursement for teacher retirement costs.

Nonetheless, when school districts are figuring out how much they must pay the charters for each student they enroll, those three factors -- athletics, charter payments and pension costs for teachers -- are part of the equation. That's not fair.

House Bill 2364 would level the playing field, bringing fairness to the funding formula for charters in addition to more oversight of the operations of these independent yet publicly funded schools, both the bricks-and-mortar and the cyber varieties.

Right now, school districts pay charters a per-student sum. It is based on each district's average per-pupil operating cost, but the cost of transportation, construction and improvement projects, special education and some other programs are deducted. Subtracting the three additional components could save the state millions of dollars while continuing to provide charters with fair compensation. Proponents say the new formula would more accurately approximate the charters' cost of educating their students.

It also would be more accurate because it would be based on actual district expenditures rather than the amounts budgeted in advance.

The measure, sponsored by a Republican lawmaker from Central Pennsylvania, Mike Fleck, has drawn bipartisan support and been endorsed by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. That doesn't happen every day.

Beyond the funding calculation, this bill also would limit the size of balances that charter schools could accumulate -- 8 to 12 percent, depending on their size -- and require them to undergo strict audits to assure compliance with state regulations.

At a time when school districts are finding it increasingly difficult to balance their budgets while keeping a lid on property taxes, it is important that every dollar is distributed fairly. HB 2364 is an important component of that strategy, and it deserves to become law in Pennsylvania.


First Published June 10, 2012 12:00 AM


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