Saturday, October 6, 2012

PA charter school reform should protect taxpayers, not just K12, Inc. CEO Ron Packard and CSM CEO Vahan Gureghian

PA charter school reform should protect taxpayers, not just K12, Inc. CEO

Pennsylvania lawmakers should consider the following principles in any charter school reform legislation:

  • Limit unassigned fund balances for charter and cyber charter schools, consistent with the limits already in effect for traditional public schools. In 2010, the auditor general reported that charter schools had $108 million in reserve funds. Nearly half of charter schools had a cumulative reserve fund balance above traditional public schools' limit of 12 percent of their annual spending. The charter school balances ranged as high as 95 percent.  The 21st Century Cyber Charter School reportedly has a $3 million accumulated balance of excess funds over actual costs that it’s board would like to return to school districts and their taxpayers but there is apparently no provision in the existing charter school law that would enable them to refund the money.

  • Remove the "double dip" for pension costs by charter and cyber charter schools. Presently, a school district's cost for retirement expenditure is not subtracted from expenditures in the tuition calculation that determines funding for charters. This sets up a "double dip" since state law guarantees charter schools reimbursement for their retirement costs. The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials estimates that between 2011-12 and 2016-17, eliminating the "double dip" would save school districts $510 million, including $45.8 million in savings for 2012-13.

  • Limit the amount of special education funding that a charter or cyber charter school receives per student to the school district's total per-pupil spending for special education services. The state funding formula's 16 percent cap on school district special education population does not apply to charter schools. An official of Bensalem Township High School in Bucks County testified last year that this results in paying $3,425 more per charter school special education student than Bensalem is paying for its own special education students.

  • Require year-end audits by the state Department of Education to determine the actual costs of education services of charter and cyber charter schools, followed by an annual year-end final reconciliation process of tuition payments from school districts against those actual costs. Any overpayments would be returned to the school districts. In the 2010-11 school year, non-special education tuition rates per student ranged from $4,478 to $16,915.

  • Increase transparency for contractors that provide management, educational or administrative services to charter and cyber charter schools by requiring disclosure of a financial relationship with for-profit providers.  The taxpaying public has the right to know how their money is being spent for public education.  This is in stark contrast to the provision in SB1115 that would specifically exempt vendors doing business with charter schools from the state’s right-to-know laws.

  • Please oppose any provision that would create a statewide authorizer for charter schools, bypassing local control.  Any mechanism that would create a statewide authorizer for new charter schools removes local control over local tax dollars by locally elected officials.

  • Of 17 members of the proposed commission on charter school funding in SB1115, only 3 represent traditional public schools, which educate more than 4 out of 5 of our students.

  • Please oppose any Direct Pay provisions.  Do you let your bank automatically pay your bills without you having a chance to review and approve them?  Direct pay is not an innocuous means to streamline an administrative process.  It is a means by which school district subsidy dollars will be easily and quickly be transferred to charter schools without an adequate review process by school districts.  The proposal enhances the profits of charter and cyber charter schools to the detriment of school districts and local taxpayers.

  • Please oppose any Parent Trigger Conversion: Giving only parents the authority to make executive decisions about the school their students attend marginalizes other local taxpayers and silences the voices of the rest of the community and the locally elected school board members.  Parent trigger proposals exclude the taxpayers, including businesses contributing to the public education system, from the decision process.  A school belongs to the community, those who live in that district, the students that have graduated from the school, those persons who have yet to enroll, and the Commonwealth of PennsylvaniaSchool buildings should not be able to be transferred over to a private entity via a petition process. 

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