PA REGIONAL, Pa. (WTAJ) — In an unprecedented act of unity, 11 school boards from Centre, Clearfield, and and Clinton Counties published a resolution calling for charter school law reform. This resolution followed a press conference where Governor Wolf cited Pennsylvania’s charter laws as being among the worst in the county, and proposed a major funding cut to charter schools.
“We understand that charter schools are here to stay, but when you have 99 school board members out of 99 school board members agree that funding of charter schools need to be reformed, that’s something to take notice too,” said Dr. Brian Griffith, superintendent for the Penns Valley Area School District.
Dr. Griffith says $1 out of every $10 from taxpayers goes toward a charter school.
“That’s big money when you magnify that across the commonwealth,” said Dr. Griffith. “We have board members from the conservative side and the liberal side, but they all agree that the funding formula needs to be fixed.”
Bellefonte Area School District board member, Donna Smith, says their district spends about $3 million a year on charter schools.
“There’s so many things that we would be able to afford… social workers, classroom aides, a building project… many learning opportunities… and we can’t do that because we don’t want to raise taxpayer dollars,” said Smith.
Pennsylvania’s charter school law was created in 1995 and doesn’t account for cyber schooling. That’s one reason why the districts came together to push for non-partisan reform.
“I can’t even fathom a legislator who would be opposed to tax dollar accountability and improving education for our local students, I mean we want to keep the money in our districts. It’s leaving our districts for a sub-par education, and it really is, it’s sad,” said Smith.
The resolution articulates eight points the board members are concerned with, and the solutions they’re calling for:
- Eliminate the inclusion of charter tuition costs and students within the tuition formula
- Reform charter funding formula to eliminate costs for programming not offered — career and technical centers, athletics, intramurals, fine arts, and other extracurricular activities
- Reform special education to align costs with services provided and ensure appropriate student identification
- Enhance the power and authority of school boards in charter oversight, increasing transparency and taxpayer understanding
- Enforce equal prohibitions on conflicts of interest
- Require school district board representation on charter school boards;
- Eliminate tuition payments to cyber charter schools if a school district offers a cyber option
- Provide school districts with the same teacher certification flexibility.
Smith and Dr. Griffith say they understand not every student benefits from the same way of learning.
“This is not undermining school choice, and that seems to be one of the push-backs,” said Smith.
“I think what we’re looking at here is really not to take away funding from the charter schools altogether. We’re really looking at finding a way to adjust the formula, so the formula better represents the costs of educating the students in charter schools.”
Superintendent Griffith says the next step in this process is to educate the community and advocate with representatives.