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Lehigh Valley superintendents call for reform of ‘flawed’ charter school funding formula – The Morning Call

Lehigh and Berks county superintendents spoke about the need for charter school funding reform at a Friday press conference held by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association’s Keystone Center for Charter Change.

“People need to understand that Pennsylvanians pay for two state-funded systems: public schools and then state-funded but privately operated schools. [and] unaccountable charter industry,” Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Joseph Roy said during the virtual chat.

Roy was joined by Superintendents Mark Madson of Parkland, Jennifer Holman of Northwestern Lehigh and Christian Temchatin of Kutztown Area. The discussion was moderated by Larry Feinberg, director of the Keystone Center for Charter Change at PBSA and school board vice president for Haverford Township School District in Delaware County.

The superintendents represent rural, urban, and suburban districts, and while the size and demographics of their districts vary, all agreed that state reform of charter school funding is necessary to serve students and students equitably. district taxpayers.

“We believe the funding formula the state is currently using is flawed,” Madson said.

PBSA’s 2022 State of Education Report found that 78% of Pennsylvania districts identified charter school tuition as their top budget pressure, and more than 400 of the 500 school districts in the State have passed resolutions calling on the General Assembly to adopt the funding reform charter.

Gov. Tom Wolf also called for fairer charter school tuition and proposed charter school law reform in his budget proposal that is expected to save districts $373 million. .

Specifically, the superintendents said that cybercharter funding and special education funding at charter schools is inequitable and forces districts to overpay charter students.

“Tuition for cyber and charter students is based on the cost of the home district, not what it costs to educate a student at that school they actually attend,” Holman explained. “We need a fairer funding formula [for] what it really costs to educate a child in a virtual environment.

Holman said Northwestern Lehigh is expected to spend $2.1 million of its $50 million budget on about 120 students attending charter schools for the next school year. She also said the district’s digital academy educates students for one-third of the cost the district pays in tuition to send a student to a cyber charter school.

Madson said Parkland’s e-charter costs for this school year are about $6.8 million, compared to $3.8 million spent by the district in 2017-18.

“It is, for us, a significant amount of funding that we give to these charter schools,” he said. “And that’s a huge impact for us, especially for our taxpayers.”

The Parkland School Board just approved its proposed $216.2 million budget earlier this week with a 1.2% property tax hike — the first tax hike in two years.

Roy echoed superintendents’ concerns about cybercharter funding and said special education funding for charter schools also needs reform.

Charter schools in Bethlehem receive $6 million in excess special education tuition due to the current funding formula. Charter schools receive tuition based on the average amount the district spends to educate a student in special education.

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Districts, however, receive special education funds reimbursed based on three categories of need for special education students. Roy said the average sent to charters is inflated because public schools educate more special education students who have higher needs than charter schools.

Roy added that BASD has 2,000 students who attend charter schools and 13,000 who stay in public schools in the district. He said the district is budgeting about $34 million in charter school tuition for the upcoming school year, which is roughly even with the district’s basic education funding.

“The money that’s supposed to come in to support our educational teaching programs is really going right back to the door,” he said.

The superintendents also noted that charter school boards are not publicly elected, but rather privately appointed, and administration costs should not be shared with the public as is the case for schools. public.

Paying charter school tuition is a priority for many district leaders and taxpayers as districts prepare to finalize their budgets for 2022-23 next month.

“I’m talking about fair funding,” Roy said. “Districts will have the money to invest in their own children and/or can avoid tax increases simply by fixing the funding formula and making[ing] charter schools fund more on a par with school districts [funding].”

Morning Call reporter Jenny Roberts can be reached at 484-903-1732 and [email protected].