Roebuck welcomes charter/cyber school reform bill,
lays out principles for immediate savings
HARRISBURG, June 4 – State Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila., Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, welcomed the introduction of a new charter and cyber charter school reform bill, while also laying out four principles Roebuck believes must be in any bill to reform those schools.
"At a time when public schools are still coping with last year's state education funding cuts and local property taxpayers want to avoid another round of trickle-down tax hikes, it's only fair to taxpayers for all schools play by the same rules," Roebuck said.
"These reforms should be in effect starting with the 2012-13 school year. We can provide this relief immediately to school districts and their taxpayers. These reforms would provide at least $45.8 million in savings for the coming school year, and probably much more than that."
Roebuck said the new bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon/Blair/Mifflin, is a good start.
"In addition to the direct fiscal reforms, I am pleased the bill retains local control over charter school approval, unlike competing legislation that would strip away that local authority and place it in the hands of bureaucrats in Harrisburg," Roebuck said.
Roebuck said any bill to reform the financing of charter and cyber charter schools should address four key areas:
- Limiting unassigned fund balances for charter and cyber charter schools, consistent with the limits already in effect for traditional public schools. In 2010, the auditor general reported that charter schools had $108 million in reserve funds. Nearly half of charter schools had a cumulative reserve fund balance above traditional public schools' limit of 12 percent of their annual spending. The charter school balances ranged as high as 95 percent.
- Removing the "double dip" for pension costs by charter and cyber charter schools. Presently, a school district's cost for retirement expenditure is not subtracted from expenditures in the tuition calculation that determines funding for charters. This sets up a "double dip" since state law guarantees charter schools reimbursement for their retirement costs. The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials estimates that between 2011-12 and 2016-17, eliminating the "double dip" would save school districts $510 million, including $45.8 million in savings for 2012-2013.
- Limiting the amount of special education funding that a charter or cyber charter school receives per student to the school district's total per-pupil spending for special education services. The state funding formula's 16 percent cap on school district special education population does not apply to charter schools. An official of Bensalem Township High School in Bucks County testified last year that this results in paying $3,425 more per charter school special education student than Bensalem is paying for its own special education students.
- Requiring year-end audits by the state Department of Education to determine the actual costs of education services of charter and cyber charter schools, followed by an annual year-end final reconciliation process of tuition payments from school districts against those actual costs. Any overpayments would be returned to the school districts. In the 2010-11 school year, non-special education tuition rates per student ranged from $4,478 to $16,915.
In 2009-10, school districts paid charter schools $795 million, with only about $227 million reimbursed to them by the state. The 2011-12 state budget ended that state reimbursement.