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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: March 20, 2019 12:14 PM
From: Senator Robert M. Tomlinson
To: All Senate members
Subject: Student Driven Charter Funding Reform
Please join me in sponsoring a package of pro-student bills aimed at addressing the growing discrepancies of funding charter schools through school districts. There is a long-standing debate about what charters were created to do and then how to adequately fund them. Many local districts, including my own in Bensalem have seen staggering increases in charter and special education payments. These increases have forced districts to cut programs, raise taxes and deplete fund balances. In the last nine years, payments for charter schools have quadrupled and the Bensalem School District costs for charter schools and special education have increased by $23.5 million and yet their own budget, outside of these costs, has only increased an average of 0.92% per year! The majority of every Act 1 tax increase must go straight to funding charter schools. The school district is good stewards of their resources, but continuing to follow this practice is a financial failure for students and our community.

I am proposing a package of bills to provide adjustments with fair, common sense approaches that do not penalize, but right size education funding in a way that supports all public students no matter where they attend school.

Document #1

Introduced as SB735

Description: Two proposals address funding for special education students. The first proposal implements the Special Education Funding Commission’s recommendation to apply the same funding principles used in the formula for school districts to determine a school district’s payment for a special education student enrolled in a charter school. In most cases, the charter school special education tuition rate is far in excess of the actual special education costs the charter school spends to educate individual students. This change more closely represents the actual cost of special education services and applies the rule across the board with a gradual phase in.

Document #2

Introduced as SB736

Description: The second proposal removes the across the board assumption of a 16% special education population rate per school district to using the school district’s actual percentage of special education population. These payments should reflect the methodology of the actual students served and not an arbitrary assumption that does not reflect the make-up of the school district or the charter school.

Document #3

Description: The third proposal addresses the calculation of selected expenditures school districts pay to charter schools. This is referred to as the 363 calculation, which determines payments to a charter school based on the school district’s costs. The first part of the legislation would require the school district to provide separate calculations for cyber charter and brick and mortar charter schools. While both are considered charter schools, they have different needs and considerations and should not be lumped together. By separating the calculations, we can better address the individual needs and cost drivers without penalizing the other type of charter or school district. The second part of the legislation would address new items on the 363 calculations. It would put in statute the practice of excluding federal appropriations. It would also include new deductions for investigation and court costs, grants, contributions and donations, certain non-instructional costs and tuition paid to the charter school.

Document #4

Introduced as SB738

Description: The next proposal would re-establish the charter school reimbursement line-item in the state budget. This new line would not be a full reimbursement to school districts, but would follow a formula that allows school districts with a greater percentage of charter school costs to be reimbursed for some of those costs. The reimbursement would also be subject to a cap as this reimbursement is not meant to serve as a windfall to school districts, but to acknowledge that certain factors necessitate additional assistance.

Document #5

Introduced as SB739

Description: The last proposal would provide clear and consistent processes and timelines for both school districts and charter schools in the tuition payment process. It codifies the Department of Education’s past process of determining charter school tuition using actual school district expenditures and allows the department to review school district subsidy deductions.