Gov. Tom Wolf

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Gov. Tom Wolf in a file photo from February

Peters Township School Board approved a resolution supporting some type of state funding reform with regard to charter and cyber schools that operate independently.

Tuesday’s unanimous vote came at the request of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which provided a model resolution stating in part:

“School districts are struggling to keep up with growing charter costs and are forced to raise taxes and cut staffing, programs and services for their own students in order to pay millions of dollars to charter schools.”

Lisa Anderson, Peters Township’s PSBA representative, said the district paid $756,000 in mandated tuition in 2018-19.

“Currently, our district sends $12,151 to a charter school for every regular-education student who attends,” she said, citing that number at 44. “More is charged if there is a special-education student.”

According to the PSBA, the latest data from the state Department of Education show in 2017-18, total charter school tuition payments totaled more than $1.8 billion, with $519 million paid by districts for tuition to nonbrick-and-mortar cyber schools.

“Further analysis of PDE data shows that in 2014-15, school districts paid charter schools more than $100 million for special education services in excess of what charter schools reported spending on special education,” the resolution further states.

Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a statewide flat rate of $9,500 per student, and estimates are if those proposed changes were enacted, districts across the state would save over $270 million,” Anderson said. “There’s also legislation to look at ways to adjust special-education funding to be more in line with what the charter school is actually spending to educate those students.”

Anderson said she recently participated in a PSBA legislative action committee conference call.

“They felt that nobody knows right now what the changes will look like ultimately, but that there is, finally on both sides of the aisle, an acknowledgement that there is an inequity and then a desire to do something,” she reported.

Board member Rebecca Bowman pointed out the district must maintain staffing and resource levels to accommodate students enrolled in charter and cyber schools, should they decide to return to their home district.

“Not only are we paying money out, we are conserving no resources in-house,” she said.

Proposals for funding reform are drawing opposition from the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools advocacy group and 143K Rising, which, according to its website, represents the families of 143,000 children who are fighting to save public charter schools in the state.

“The governor’s budget plan is a direct attack on charter school families, designed to punish them for choosing to leave a failing school district,” the website states, encouraging opponents of the plan to contact their elected officials.

According to the PSBA, the current charter school funding formula was established in 1997 under the state’s Charter School Law and has not been changed since.

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