|In the near future I intend to introduce legislation that will make comprehensive amendments to the Charter and Cyber Charter School Law. While I do support charter schools, I believe major revisions are needed regarding the governance, financing and accountability of charter and cyber charter schools. I believe these revisions will result in significant savings to our school districts of at least $365 million a year. The legislation addresses what’s needed in reforming the Charter and Cyber Charter School law:
A detailed summary of the major revisions is below.
- Strengthening local school board and taxpayer ability to approve and have authority over charter schools;
- A Charter School Funding Advisory Commission to determine the actual costs of charter and cyber charter schools as part of developing a new equitable funding formula that is fair to both charter schools and school districts and most importantly taxpayers AND changes in the charter school law to address immediate specific financial concerns about the funding of charter and cyber charter schools including special education overpayments, pension “double-dipping” and limiting surplus fund balances;
- Providing better fiscal and academic accountability for charter and cyber charter schools including greater transparency and financial accountability of for-profit management companies contracted to run charter and cyber charter schools.
Governance of Charter and Cyber Charter Schools:
- Creates the Office of Charter and Cyber Charter Schools within the Department of Education, which shall have oversight of Charter School and Cyber Charter School functions, including the ability to investigate complaints of fraud, waste and mismanagement.
- Revises the application procedure for the creation of a Charter School or Cyber Charter School by requiring the newly formed office of Charter and Cyber Charter Schools to create a standardized application to be used by all applicants throughout the state. The application form will also be expanded to capture more information about the charter school’s proposed organization structure, standards for performance and curriculum.
- School districts that do not transport resident students on a daily basis shall also not be required to transport students who attend a charter school or regional charter school.
- Prohibits the consumption, purchase or sale of alcohol in any charter school facility and proscribes penalties for violations of this prohibition.
- Prohibits a charter school from contracting out more than 5% of their teaching staff, except if the department approves contracting above 5% for teaching staff in specialized subjects.
- Allows existing charter schools managed by the same entity to consolidate administration of the charter schools but with the school district still maintaining oversight of all the charter schools.
Financing of Charter and Cyber Charter Schools:
- Creates a Statewide Funding Advisory Commission to explore charter and cyber charter school funding issues, including special education funding, and make recommendations to the General Assembly and the Governor. The 15 Member Commission will have equal representation by public school and charter school appointees. The focus of the commission will be on determining the actual cost charter schools; developing a funding formula that provides funding equity and accountability for charter schools and addresses specific financial concerns about the costs of charter schools for the state and school districts.
- Places unassigned fund balance limits on Charter and Cyber Charter schools based on their budgets, similar to those required under law for school districts.
- Requires year end audits by the Department of Education to determine the actual costs of education services of a Charter or Cyber Charter School and then conduct an annual year end final reconciliation process of tuition payments against actual costs of education services of a Charter or Cyber Charter School. In determining the actual cost of education services, the amount spent on media advertisement to promote enrollment of the charter may not be used to determine the charter schools actual cost of education services, this would ensure that tax payers are not funding advertising activities of the charter school. If the actual cost of education services exceeds the tuition payments from school district then the Charter or Cyber Charter School would return any overpayments to the school district.
- Limits the amount special education funding that a Charter or Cyber Charter School receives per student to the total per pupil expenditure for special educational services incurred by the school district.
- Removes the "double dip" for pension costs by Charter & Cyber Charter Schools. Presently, a school district cost for retirement expenditure is not subtracted from expenditures in the Charter tuition calculation that determines funding for Charter Schools. This sets up a “double dip” for Charter & Cyber Charter Schools since state law guarantees Charter School’s reimbursement for their retirement costs.
- Eliminate non-instructional services from tuition payments to charters such as expenditures for athletic funds, nonpublic school programs and services, tuition payments for Charter Schools from the Charter School tuition calculation, programs and services funded by federal funds, publicly or privately funded competitive grants and contributions or donations from private sources as they are unrelated to Charter School operational costs.
- Allows the charter school to decide if they want to participate in direct pay from the state or continue to receive funding directly from the school district. Keeps the burden of proving enrollment accuracy on the charter school.
- Cyber Funding Reforms. Additional changes to the current cyber charter funding formula for non-special education students:
- A new "Cyber Program"deduction to spur on competition between school districts and cyber charter schools. School districts will be permitted to deduct 50 percent of the costs of any cyber program they offer to their own resident students.
- Districts would be allowed to make additional deductions in calculating their payments to cyber charter schools; these deductions represent costs that occur in a brick-and-mortar setting, but not necessarily in a cyber-setting. The proposed new deductions are: 1) The "Extracurricular Activities" deduction will allow districts to deduct 50 percent of the costs they incur for extracurricular activities. This deduction will not change the availability of extracurricular activities to cyber charter students who choose to participate in their home school district’s activities. 2) The "District Pupil Services" deduction will allow districts to deduct 100 hundred percent of the costs associated with certain services that are offered in a brick-and-mortar setting but are not necessarily offered by cyber charter schools. These deductions will include student health services, food services and library services.
Financial and Academic Accountability of Charter and Cyber Charter Schools:
- Improves accountability of all charter school administrators and board members by tying their performance to the Pa Ethics Act and other standards of conduct recommended by a national charter school law model.
- Provides adequate transparency and financial accountability for contractors, including for-profit management companies that provide management, educational or administrative services to charter school entities. Also requires these entities to publicly disclose the use of any monies received from a charter school as well as subject those funds to audit by the state.
- Improves academic accountability of charter and cyber charter schools by basing renewal of these school’s charters on their students meeting academic performance requirements that our public schools must meet. Also requires charter schools to amend their current charter if after approval they seek to contract any services of the charter school including, management, educational or administrative services to an educational service provider.
- Requires the Office to develop a standard application for parents to apply for their students to any charter school in the commonwealth. This measure will ensure that barriers are removed to ensure that all students have an equal and fair opportunity to apply to the charter school of their choice especially students with special needs and Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable students. The choice to attend a charter school belongs to parents and students, charter schools must welcome and serve all students and cannot discourage students from enrolling and must help them to succeed.
- Requires Charter and Cyber charter schools to ensure their students are in compliance with the compulsory attendance laws and makes them responsible for instituting truancy proceedings as stated in the Public School Code.
- Charter and Cyber Charter teachers, principals and certified support staff are evaluated under the same system of evaluation as other public schools.
If you have any questions regarding this legislation, please contact my office at 717-787-7044.
Thank you for your support.