Pa. must revisit funding of charters

Auditor General Jack Wagner
Auditor General Jack Wagner
Posted: July 03, 2012

A new report on the expense of charter and cyber schools provides more proof that Pennsylvania needs to change its flawed formula to fund them.

In doing so, State Auditor General Jack Wagner believes taxpayers could save at least $365 million annually if lawmakers revise the outdated 1997 charter school law, fix a funding inequity, and provide more oversight to prevent mismanagement.

Pennsylvania spends an average of $13,411 per student at a charter school, compared to a national average of $10,000, the report said. Pennsylvania spends the most among the five states with the largest charter school enrollments. The state has 167 charters, including 80 in Philadelphia.

The disparity is even greater at the state's 13 cyber charter schools, which — with no buildings and fewer expenses — cost $10,145 per student, while the national average is $6,500.

Only two cyber charters meet the state's academic standards, yet four new cybers have been approved for the fall.

Charters receive funds from their host district based on a complex per-pupil spending formula. At 500 school districts, there are 500 different rates, which makes no sense. Districts pay different amounts to educate students attending the same school. And some districts end up subsidizing other students.

A bill introduced by Rep. Fleck (R., Dauphin) would tighten oversight, require outside annual audits, and change the funding formula.

But it falls short of setting average payments for charter schools and cyber charters.

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools supports creating a 15-member advisory committee to make recommendations by March.

Lawmakers should address the problem, sooner rather than later.

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