Charter Reform: Get the Facts
Many individuals have seen and heard the advertisements offering “free education options.” These choices are either “tuition free” or “at no cost” to parents, but many have to stop and wonder just who’s paying for those services. People understand that nothing is free, and the fact is local taxpayers are paying those costs, and they come at the expense of local school districts; ones residents believe their tax dollars are supporting.
When you take a hard look at “school choice,” the reality is that charter schools, including cyber options, have actually done little to strengthen education or offer effective programs and services for students. What cyber charter schools have done, however, is take public dollars from locally accountable traditional public schools.
Allegheny Valley School District is one of nearly 400 Pennsylvania school districts urging Governor Tom Wolf and the state legislature to support charter school reform. In February 2021, the Governor unveiled a bipartisan Charter School Accountability plan to protect students and tax payers. The plan would hold low-performing charter schools accountable to improve educational quality and protect $229 million a year in tax dollars. The act would also increase transparency of for-profit companies that operate charter schools in Pennsylvania.
The Allegheny Valley School District, like many Pennsylvania districts, has had increasing numbers of students move to Charter options. Especially through the pandemic, charter school costs have increased over the past three years:
2018-19 - $379,145 (21 students); 2019-20 - $544,145 (21 students); and 2020-21 - $1,052,553 (53 students). The District hopes with schools returning to traditional learning, that the numbers will decrease for the 2021-2022 school year. However, with $636,000 being the approximate amount that one mill brings to the District, the cost to have so many students in charter schools affects almost 2 mills of tax money.
For this reason and many more, the District encourages all of its community members to learn more about charter school funding. For information, please see:
- The Pennsylvania School Boards Association’s Keystone Center for Charter Change: https://www.pacharterchange.org/
- Pennsylvania School Boards Association: https://www.psba.org/issue/charter-school-reform/
- Pennsylvania Department of Education: https://www.education.pa.gov/K-12/Charter%20Schools/CharterPolicyReform/Pages/default.aspx
xxWhy is Cyber Charter School Reform So Desperately Needed in Pennsylvania?xx
In 2018-19, total charter school tuition payments (cyber and brick-and-mortar schools) were more than $2 billion. To put that into perspective, that would pay the average salary of 29,700 teachers and is more than three times what school districts spent on providing student with career and technical education programs. Nearly $606 million of that total was tuition to cyber charter schools, which is $112 million more than what school districts spent on all students activities such as athletics and extra curriculars.
Tuition costs paid to charter schools divert money from Allegheny Valley’s operating budget, which eventually leads to increased costs and money taken from the fund balance or increased taxes for the community. The District spent more than $1 million ($1,065,853 pending reconciliations as of July 2021) in local tax money to pay for approximately 50 students to attend cyber charter schools during the 2020-21 school year. If the students do not return back to the district, Allegheny Valley anticipates spending more than $1 Million of local tax monies in 2021-22 school year as well. That money could be better spent at Allegheny Valley for needs such as:
- Counselors for social-emotional learning and student support
- Additional educational resources
- Completing needed maintenance and repairs
- Upgrades for facilities
Excessive Tuition Rates
The cost of charter schools for school districts continue to grow. Since 2007-08, charter school tuition costs have grown by more than $1.4 billion, or 229.4% while charter school enrollments have only increased 112.9%.
The majority of AVSD charter school students attend cyber programs where tuition payments are used to fund administrative costs. These costs are double to triple the amount of per-pupil costs for administrator salaries and benefits when compared to those costs within the District. The tuition paid by public school districts to charter schools for special education students is a flat rate based on the District’s per-pupil budgeted expenditure for special education students, rather than the actual cost of providing those services to students with special needs. Charter schools receive as much as $40,000 per student, yet the actual cost of special education services provided by charter schools is estimated to only be between $5,000-$10,000 per student. This creates a surplus in taxpayer funding that charters are not required to return or even report.
Lack of Transparency and Fiscal Responsibility
Unlike public school districts , which have locally-elected board providing local control, charter schools do not answer directly to taxpayers, result in in less oversight. One outcome of this has been the accumulation of significant budget surpluses, which are then often spent on advertising an board of director expenses, rather than benefiting students.
In 2020, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School had a total fund balance of more than $107 million, more than $84 million of Allegheny Valley’s total annual operating budget.
Poor Academic Performance
When looking at any measure of academic performance, charter schools consistently score lower than traditional school districts. The difference is even more apparent when comparing “brick and mortar” school districts to cyber charter schools.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Future Ready PA Index:
- Third grade English Language proficiency was 22.3% lower in cyber charter schools than traditional school districts.
- Seventh grade Math proficiency was 25.3% lower in cyber charter schools than traditional school districts.
xxWhat Can You Do?xx
Become more informed
A great source of information is the Pennsylvania School Boards Association’s Keystone Center for Charter Changed: https://www.pacharterchange.org/
Pennsylvania School Boards Association: https://www.psba.org/issue/charter-school-reform/
Pennsylvania Department of Education: https://www.education.pa.gov/K-12/Charter%20Schools/CharterPolicyReform/Pages/default.aspx
Contact your Legislators
Contact your legislator and let him/her know that it’s time to fix Pennsylvania’s outdated charget school law.
xxJust The FAXxx
How many cyber charter schools are in Pennsylvania?
There were 15 cyber charter schools operating in Pennsylvania during the 2018-19 school year with a combined enrollment of more than 137,000 students.
How do cyber charter schools work?
A cyber charter school is a public charter school that provides most of its instruction to its students through the Internet or by some other electronic means. Cyber charter schools are public schools chartered by state education officials to deliver learning via computer.
Students who are enrolled in a cyber charter school do most of their schoolwork at home over the computer — they do not go to classes in a school building.
How are cyber charter schools funded in Pennsylvania?
School districts are required by law to make a tuition payment to a charter school or cyber charter school for every student residing in the school district, who enrolls in the charter/cyber charter school. In 2018-29 nearly 90% of charter school funding (from state, local, and federal sources) came from mandatory tuition payments from local school districts.
For each student that enrolls and attends a charter school, their local school district pays a portion of their funds allocated for the student to the charter school. The Per Pupil Education Rate is the amount of money that the school districts determine is needed to educate a student. The rate will vary depending on each individual school district and whether the student is in regular education or special education. Local school districts determine the cost of each child to attend school based on data from the previous school year.
How are Pennsylvania charter schools managed?
Unlike public schools, which are overseen by a locally elected board, the state’s cyber charter schools are governed by privately managed boards of trustees who may set their own rules of operation. Charter trustees may have little or no connection to or accountability to the taxpayers in their student “home” communities. Some charter schools are managed by employees appointed by the board of trustees. However, many cyber charter school boards outsource all aspects of charter school operations and management to profit firms.