HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Governor Tom Wolf is calling for more accountability and reforms for charter schools.
He says taxpayers pay too much, but opponents of reform don’t feel like they have a seat at the table.
Last year, taxpayers spent $2.1 billion on charter schools, including more than $600 million on cyber schools.
The Wolf administration says this year, the burden will increase by more than $400 million.
“If we don’t fix the problems in our charter schools now, we’re going to be setting up students for failure,” Wolf said.
Wolf says his proposal will save school districts $229 million a year, saving $99 million by applying the special education funding formula for traditional public schools to charter schools.
“The current formula provides a flat rate for all students with special needs that do not take into account actual costs,” said Robert O’Donnell, superintendent of State College Area School District.
But for one charter school administrator, she says $50 million of that comes from children in the city of Philadelphia.
“We are holding half of the cuts right here in Philadelphia, which means if Philadelphia gets cut, WPACES is getting cut,” said Stacy Gill-Phillips, CEO of the West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School.
Wolf says $130 million a year would be saved with a single per-student tuition rate that school districts pay cyber schools.
“This does not eliminate them, nor does it destroy their schools. This brings it to a fairer system of funding and what happens within their institutions,” Rep. Joe Ciresi (D-Montgomery) said.
Dr. Rich Jensen, CEO of Agora Cyber Charter School, says there are costs that include servers, internet reimbursement fees, administrative offices and building rentals so students can take tests.
“People outside who don’t understand how we operate are making decisions as to what they think expenses are or should be,” said Dr. Rich Jensen, CEO of Agora Cyber Charter School.
State Sen. Lindsey Williams says they listened to and incorporated feedback from charter schools and school districts after proposing similar legislation last year.
“We took the five highest performing cyber charter entities and took the lowest of that number, so for this upcoming school year, that would be about $9,500,” Williams said.
As for reform and accountability for charter schools, “We agree,” said Dr. Dara Ware Allen, CEO of City Charter High School in Pittsburgh. “We would like to be at the table to have a substantive conversation and be included in those discussions.”
As it stands, the bill would create charter school performance standards and limit cyber school enrollment until educational quality improves.
“It’s critical in making sure that our students have all the options available to them to succeed and enroll in the school that meets their needs,” Ware Allen said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Centre, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin) released a statement on the issue Friday evening, as well, ultimately siding with Wolf’s opposition.
He says Wolf’s charter school plan is “discriminatory” and limits school choices for Pennsylvania families.
“Once again, Governor Wolf shows how tone-deaf and out-of-touch he is with the people of Pennsylvania as we continue to fight through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Corman said. “It’s time we end the education lottery, where your future is determined by your zip code.”