Policy Committe Hearing: Charter schools raise property taxes

Hearing sheds light on outdated laws and high spending that impacts education Pennsylvanians pay for

HARRISBURG, April 4 – Today, the House Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing about Pennsylvania charter schools, laws regulating them, and their overall impact on property taxes.

“Of 500 school districts, 419 have passed resolutions asking us to change the charter school law and they’ve been met with deafening silence from Harrisburg,” said Rep. Mary Isaacson. “We need to review the charter school laws that have not been changed in 25 years and assess proper funding levels.”

The hearing was hosted by Isaacson, and Reps. Joe Ciresi and Carol Hill-Evans, and took place in Harrisburg where lawmakers joined in person and virtually to hear from public school leaders, advocates and educators. 

Members heard from Arthur Sternberg, who explained that charter school payments are expected to balloon to $3 billion this year, a sum that is burdening Pennsylvanians with higher taxes. According to testifiers, charter school attendance grew by nearly 14 percent but their cost to school districts increased 52 percent. 

“Forty-five cents of every dollar of raised property tax went to charter school costs but we have no idea what these funds are being used for,” said Hill-Evans. “This isn’t about putting charters or cyber charters out of business; it's about increasing transparency and not overpaying charters for costs they do not have.”

Members also heard about the lack of charter school regulations that create challenges for local school districts. Uri Monson, chief financial officer, School District of Philadelphia, shared that 93 percent of special education students served by charters cost on average $6,000 less a year to educate than what they are being paid.

“The Special Education Funding Commission established a formula to pay for special education students based upon their level of need, but that formula was never applied to charter schools, which means we end up paying more for less,” said Rep. Mark Longietti, Democratic chair of the House Education Committee.

School funding and charter school change advocates said that the quality of education delivered to students at Pennsylvania charter schools is not meeting statewide standards. 

“Education for our young people is one of the most important things we do here in Harrisburg,” said Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, chair of the House Democratic Policy Committee. “Our Republican colleagues have continued to block any effort to ensure our public and charter schools maintain standards and have a limited impact on property taxes. Special interest, dark money groups spread misinformation about charter schools that are at the root of tax increases and pull money from our public schools. I’m glad we were able to shed some light on the facts.”

More than 20 members of the Pa. House Democratic Caucus attended the hearing. A recording, written testimony and other information about this and other House Democratic Policy Committee hearings can be found at www.pahouse.com/policy.