Roebuck bill would end conflicts of interest in charter school lease payments, recover money for educating kids

HARRISBURG, April 10 – State Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila., Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, plans to introduce a bill that would end conflicts of interest in tax-funded payments for charter school leases.

"To ensure financial accountability for all public schools and protect Pennsylvania taxpayers, I will introduce legislation that would ban anyone who serves as a school director, founder, member of a board of trustees or administrator of any public school entity -- including a school district, charter school or cyber charter school -- from receiving reimbursements on lease payments for buildings or facilities used for charter school. The ban would also include executives or employees of charter school management companies," Roebuck said.

"We need to prevent these conflicts of interest up front and also recover taxpayers' money to benefit students when there has been an inappropriate payment for one of these leases," Roebuck said. "Every dollar that goes to an inappropriate lease is a dollar that doesn't go to educate our kids."

Roebuck said charter schools and traditional public schools should be treated equally under law since both receive tax dollars and both are considered public schools under Pennsylvania law.

This legislation was first introduced last session in response to concerns raised about lease overpayments to charter schools. Since December 2012, the Office of the Auditor General has found that the Department of Education has approved and paid $1.8 million in questionable lease reimbursements to seven charter schools. The questions center on whether those reimbursements are permitted under the Public School Code and Department of Education guidelines -- specifically, that state lease reimbursements to charter schools are banned for facilities owned by people or entities related to the school.

As recently as August 2016, the auditor general highlighted more than $2.5 million in questionable lease reimbursement to nine charter schools.

Roebuck's legislation would also require school officials, in their application for funding for lease reimbursements, to provide to the Department of Education a copy of the signed lease agreement for the leased building and a copy of the deed for the leased building.

Finally, the legislation would require the Department of Education to seek repayment from school entities for inappropriate lease reimbursements that were paid.