Charter School Law Reform

Last Updated: 3/22/2021 6:29 PM

Support RTMSD Students: Advocate for Charter School Law Reform

Fiscal Accountability and Transparency
Accountability for Achievement

School district superintendents, taxpayers, and public school parents are urging Governor Wolf reform the Charter School Law in Pennsylvania and provide fiscal as well as academic achievement accountability. Read more about the Governor’s plan  and add your voice to support the students of Rose Tree Media School District by contacting your state legislators below by phone or email. 

Contact Your State Representative and State Senator:
State Rep. Christopher Quinn
Covers all of RTMSD
Submit suggestion via website
(610) 325-1541

State Senator John Kane
Edgemont & Middletown
http://pasenatorkane.com/contact/
Phone: (717) 787-4712

State Sen. Tim Kearney
Media Boro and Upper Providence
Submit suggestion via website
(717) 787-1350

A suggested email message is provided see the link to the right.

Get the Facts: Cyber Charter Reform

Pennsylvania has some of the most antiquated charter school laws in the nation. While they are often hailed as “school choice,” cyber charter schools have done little to strengthen education, protect taxpayers or offer effective programs and services. Instead, they siphon money off neighborhood public schools with little accountability for how those funds actually get spent.

The Rose Tree Media School District is one of nearly 400 Pennsylvania school districts urging Governor Tom Wolf and the state legislature to support charter school reform.

In February 2021, the Governor unveiled a bipartisan Charter School Accountability plan to protect students and taxpayers. The plan would hold low-performing charter schools accountable to improve educational quality and protect taxpayers by saving $229 million a year. It also would increase transparency of for-profit companies that operate charter schools in Pennsylvania.

What are the downsides of cyber charters?

Runaway Costs

The RTMSD will spend $1.4 million in taxpayer money to pay for 65 students to attend poorly performing cyber charter schools during the 2020-21 school year.

That money could be better spent:

  • Reducing class sizes

  • Completing needed maintenance upgrades

  • Staffing for full-day kindergarten

Excessive Tuition Rates 

The tuition paid by public school districts to charter schools for special education students is a flat-rate based on the district’s per-pupil budgeted expenditure for special education students, rather than the actual cost of providing those services to students with special needs.

Charter schools receive as much as $40,000 per student, yet the actual cost of special education services provided by charter schools is estimated to only be between $5,000 to $10,000 per student. This creates a surplus in taxpayer funding that charters are not required to return or even report.

Lack of Transparency and Fiscal Responsibility

Unlike public school districts, charter schools do not answer to taxpayers, resulting in less oversight and the accumulation of significant budget surpluses. They often spend this money on travel, advertising and board of director expenses. 

  • In 2020, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School had a total fund balance of more than $107 million

  • In 2018, the former CEO of PA Cyber was sentenced to federal prison for siphoning $8 million from the charter school he created to spend on houses, a plane and other luxuries.

  • The majority of RTMSD charter school students attend cyber programs where tuition payments are used to fund administrative costs which are double to triple the amount of per-pupil costs for administrator salaries and benefits when compared to these costs within our district.

Tuition costs paid to charter schools divert money from RTMSD’s operating budget, which eventually leads to increases in property taxes.

Poor Performance

All the cyber charter schools that RTMSD students currently attend are on the state's list for either Comprehensive Support and Improvement or Targeted Support and Improvement. This means they fall into the lowest 5% of state Title I schools and/or have a graduation rate of less than 67%.

 

Number of students proficient on PSSA

Number of students basic on PSSA

Keystone Exam Proficent

Graduation Rates

The experiment of charter schools was based on the idea that they would provide innovative, high-quality and highly effective educational programs with significant cost savings once disconnected from the constraints of traditional public school districts. This has simply not proven to be true for many of the charter schools that have been launched.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Last year the RTM Board of School Directors passed a resolution supporting the revision of Pennsylvania’s “flawed charter school funding systems for regular and special education to ensure that school districts and taxpayers are no longer overpaying these schools or reimbursing for costs that the charter schools do not incur.”

Our voice has made a difference. Yours can, too!

This year, the Governor has offered a historic, bipartisan proposal that would reform this broken system. Your voice is needed to demonstrate support across our Commonwealth and urge the Pennsylvania General Assembly to approve this proposal.

  1. LEARN MORE at the Keystone Center for Charter Change at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

  2. CONTACT YOUR STATE SENATOR AND REPRESENTATIVE and register your support for the Governor’s plan.

State Rep. Christopher Quinn
Covers all of RTMSD
Phone: (610) 325-1541
http://www.repchrisquinn.com/contact.aspx 

State Senator John Kane 
Edgemont & Middletown
Phone: (717) 787-4712
http://pasenatorkane.com/contact/ 

State Sen. Tim Kearney
Media Boro and Upper Providence
Phone: (717) 787-1350
https://www.senatorkearney.com/contact

 

Sample email message

Dear Representative/Senator:

School districts like mine are spending millions of dollars each year in mandated payments to charter schools because of unfair cost calculations. As your constituent, I urge you to take action to fix this broken system that is draining our local school budget in order to pay for charter schools.

This need for change is about fairness. The outdated formula for regular education programs, set 23 years ago and never changed, is based on the school district's expenditures and does not consider what charter schools need to provide an education. This is particularly true for cyber charter schools, which have little of the overhead of traditional school districts and benefit from receiving inflated tuition rates. 

The calculation for special education tuition is also based on the school district's expenses, not the costs of the charter school. Although the General Assembly revised the special education funding formula in 2014 to more accurately target special education resources for students identified with high, medium and low needs, this formula was applied only to school districts and not to charter schools. The result is drastic overpayments to charter schools for special education students.

 Because these calculations are based on the school district's expenses, there are wide discrepancies in the amount of tuition paid by different districts for the same charter school education. These inconsistencies in tuition rates for regular education students can vary by almost $13,000 per student and by $39,000 for special education students. 

School districts paid charter schools more than $2 billion in 2018-19, with $606 million of that total paid by districts for tuition to cyber charter schools. In 2020, PA Cyber Charter School had a fund balance of more than $107 million. These costs grow significantly each year, taking a bigger percentage of our budget that we cannot control. Our options are to raise local property taxes, reduce staff or eliminate positions, increase class sizes or cut programs and services for our students. 

The need for significant and meaningful charter school funding reform is urgent. Please support the bipartisan reform plan released by Governor Wolf to ensure that school districts and taxpayers are no longer overpaying these schools or reimbursing for costs the charter schools do not incur.

Sincerely,