House Republican Caucus attempts to level playing field for districts, charter schools
By Rachel Weaver
Published: Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The House Republican Caucus released a plan on Friday that it said would reform charter and cyber charter school funding.
“Our goal in developing this package was simple: to propose fair and responsible changes to charter school funding while preserving parental options for our commonwealth's students,” said Rep. Mike Reese, R-Mt. Pleasant.
In Pennsylvania, there are 157 brick-and-mortar charter schools and 16 cyber charter schools enrolling 105,056 students. On average, charter schools receive $9,400 in state funding for each non-special education student. The money goes to charter schools via school districts.
The legislation targets the cyber-charter funding formula by creating a number of deductions for districts when figuring their payments to cyber charters:
• Deductions for pension payments, saving districts an estimated $165 million during the next five years.
• Deductions of 50 percent of the cost of any cyber program districts offer to their students when calculating payments for cyber charters' non-special education students.
• Deductions of 50 percent of the costs districts incur for extracurricular activities and 100 percent of costs associated with services such as libraries, heath care and food not offered by cyber charters.
Charter school advocates across the state expressed disappointment at the legislation.
“It takes power out of the hands of parents and returns it to bureaucrats,” said Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School interim CEO Michael Conti.
Christopher Borick, a political scientist and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said because education reform has tended to move “at a glacial pace” in the Legislature in recent years, there tends to be “a bit of caution in terms of the likelihood of this moving forward.”
“The big key is it's a Republican-backed initiative, and with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, that always raises any prospects of success much higher,” he said.
The legislation also proposes changes that charter schools support, such as extending the length of new charters from three to five years and renewals from five to 10. It would take responsibility for making charter school payments from districts and give it to the state.
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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