Bills would alter funding for charter schools in Pa.

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HARRISBURG -- Republicans in the House are proposing changes in how charter schools are funded, after a late decision last year not to call a House vote made charter-school legislation a major piece of unfinished business.

One bill in the package would attempt to better align the funding of cyber charter schools with their educating costs, an issue cited by House leaders as a concern among members when they decided in October against voting on charter-school legislation, passed by the Senate, that the governor had been expected to sign.

Where that legislation would have created a commission to examine payments to the Internet-based charter schools, the new package calls for specific changes. School districts would be allowed to deduct all or some of certain costs -- such as extracurricular activities and food services -- when they calculate the per-pupil rate that determines their obligation to charter schools.

"The fact is that brick-and-mortar schools do have different costs that cybers do not bear," said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans. "For instance, a cyberschool does not provide a meal for students."

Advocates of cyber charter schools were swift to criticize the proposal.

"Too many in the General Assembly continue to treat our cyberschool students like second-class citizens," said Monica Allison, president of Pennsylvania Families for Public Cyber Schools. "It's extremely disappointing that our state's leadership doesn't set an even playing field for every child."

Pennsylvania has 157 bricks-and-mortar charter schools and 16 cyber charter schools.

The package also includes bills to create a commission to examine state funding of special education students attending charter schools and to provide for direct payment from the state to charter schools, rather than directing the money through school districts. Another proposal would allow school districts to deduct pension payments before they calculate their obligation to cyber charter schools, a change the House Republicans said would reduce school district costs by approximately $165 million over the next five years.

Both House Democrats and the head of the Pennsylvania State Education Association said the proposals are a positive first step to changes for charter schools, though a spokesman for the Democrats said the package is incomplete without components addressing the accountability of charter schools and for-profit management companies, along with the question of surplus money carried by a charter school.

education - state

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.


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