FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
State Rep. James Roebuck
New charter/cyber school reform bill would save money sooner
HARRISBURG, Oct. 2 – State Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila., Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, today unveiled his charter and cyber charter school reform bill, which would save money for taxpayers and school districts sooner than other charter reform legislation.
"If we are overfunding some charter and cyber charter schools, as appears to be the case, that money needs to be returned to the school districts this school year, not held until 2013-14 or later," Roebuck said at a news conference at the Math Science Academy at Benjamin Franklin School.
"In the last two years, public schools have taken nearly a $1 billion cut in state funding, followed by a second state budget that locked in those cuts. Just yesterday, the latest survey of school districts found that because of these state funding cuts to public education, an estimated 20,000 jobs have been eliminated or left vacant -- along with reductions in early childhood education programs, tutoring assistance and summer school and increased class sizes that have resulted in lower student achievement scores for the first time in several years. These state funding cuts have also forced many districts to raise property taxes," Roebuck said.
Rep. Ron Buxton, D-Dauphin, said, "Traditional public schools in Pennsylvania aren't allowed to have surpluses beyond specified limits, ranging from 8 to 12 percent. Under this bill, publicly funded charter and cyber charter schools would finally operate under those same surplus limits. And they would have to refund the excess tax dollars back to the school districts. It's just common sense.
"In Harrisburg -- and across Pennsylvania -- our schools, our students and our taxpayers need this to be in effect for this school year."
Dr. Sybil Knight-Burney, superintendent of the Harrisburg School District, said, "We believe that charter and cyber charter schools should be held to the same fiscal accountability and educational requirements as school districts. Given their ability to cap enrollment, charter and cyber charter schools have discretion in the priority of student selection. Public school districts must educate or pay tuition to educate all within their district boundaries.
"We applaud Representative Dr. Roebuck and Representative Buxton for their efforts to restore the much needed funding to public schools throughout the state of Pennsylvania."
Roebuck's bipartisan bill (H.B. 2661) would:
Roebuck said, "All of these funding accountability measures will provide financial relief to school districts from specific charter school funding mandates placed on school districts. These savings can then be used by school districts and the state to restore funding to public schools and/or keep property taxes from rising. Everyone talks about reducing state mandates on schools. Well, here are some forms of mandate relief that we can do right now.
"Unfortunately, none of the four funding reforms I just mentioned are in either of the charter school reform bills that were passed by the House or Senate. These reforms need to be included in any final charter and cyber charter school reform bill."
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.
Video of Roebuck speaking at today's news conference is available at http://youtu.be/ndZ09ItaQPs.