Gov. Wolf in Wilkes-Barre, announces Charter School Accountability Plan

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Governor Tom Wolf visited G.A.R. Memorial Junior & Senior High School in Wilkes-Barre announcing a new cost savings estimate from bipartisan legislation that holds underperforming charter schools accountable to provide a quality education and protects taxpayers by controlling risking costs.

According to the administration, state school districts would save about $395 million under the new plan. The governor’s new budget proposal also includes a $1.3 billion investment in public schools.

“Our goal to provide a high-quality education to all students in Pennsylvania is undermined by our outdated charter school law,” Wolf said in the statement. “Pennsylvania’s charter school law is among the worst in the entire country. Some charter schools in Pennsylvania are outstanding institutions with a solid track record giving students an excellent education. But the way the law is set up, we can’t guarantee that every charter school is actually putting students ahead of profits.

“Sadly, research shows that some charter schools are failing students, while at the same time charging taxpayers exorbitant amounts of money.”

According to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, 44 cents of ever $1 of new property taxes went towards charter schools between 2013 and 2019. Last year, $2.1 billion was spent on charter schools including more than $600 million on cyber schools. The Wolf administration says the burden on taxpayers will increase by more than $400 million a year, an issue the new plan aims to fix.

The plan mandates a statewide cyber charter school tuition rate and would fund charter school special education the same way it is funded in all other public schools. Currently, school districts pay charter schools with the assumption that 16 percent of students receive special education. However, Wolf says this leaves some charter schools over paid for services they do not provide and regular public schools underfunded.

The administration says savings by county for school districts from charter school accountability include:

  • Monroe Co. school districts save $8 million,
  • Luzerne Co. school districts save $4.9 million,
  • Lackawanna Co school districts save $4.1 million,
  • Schuylkill County school districts save $3.8 million, and
  • Carbon Co. school districts save $2.6 million.

Individual school districts savings from charter school accountability would include:

  • Pocono Mountain School District saves $3.2 million,
  • Wilkes-Barre Area School District saves $2.2 million,
  • East Stroudsburg Area School District saves $2.2 million, and
  • Scranton School District saves $1.3 million.

A complete savings by school district is available here.     

“It is about time we have gathered together to create comprehensive charter school reform policies to change outcomes for our students,” Representative Maureen Madden said in a statement. “It is imperative that legislators across both sides of the aisle support the Governor’s plan, which addresses multiple issues within the realm of charter school operation. These include a lack of performance metrics, accountability, creating processes for charter amendments through local school boards, and requiring higher standards of transparency. Together, we can change the future of education in this state, which has been taking hit after hit in terms of funding. It’s time to be better, Pennsylvania – and the time for action has come.” 

Currently, cyber schools charge districts between $9,170 and $22,300 per student while regular intermediate units charge $5,400 per online student. The new plan would set a specific rate for all online students in the state.

“The last 15 months with the pandemic have reaffirmed that there is no substitute for in-person learning,” said Michael Mahon, superintendent of the Abington Heights School District. “While Pennsylvania’s cyber schools continue to rank among the lowest in the commonwealth in nearly every educational measure, current charter laws, coupled with slick marketing campaigns, empower them to drain community resources and poorly serve our students.”

The plan would also hold charter schools more accountable through performance standards, rewarding those that are high-performing. It would also require charter schools to have policies preventing nepotism and conflicts of interest.

“Schools with increasing enrollment in urban, suburban and rural communities will finally be funded fairly and shrinking districts are protected,” said Gov. Wolf. “Our state can no longer wait to address the school funding problem. Every student deserves a good education, no matter where they live. That’s what parents want for their children, and what Pennsylvania needs for our future.”

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