Charter Funding ‘Reform’ Bill Logically Bankrupt

By Dan Truitt,
Representative House District 156

I don’t think anyone who has been paying attention to education funding in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would argue that we have good education funding formulas. In fact, some might argue that we have no funding formula at all. The amount of money spent per pupil varies widely from school district to school district across the state. The percentage of that funding that comes from the state also varies widely across the state. "Hold Harmless" provisions in state law cause an excess of funding to go to shrinking school districts at the expense of growing school districts and the formulas for calculating charter school payments are riddled with flaws. Two students living on the same street, with parents paying the same amount in property taxes, can enjoy the benefits of two different levels of tax-payer support, simply because one student "chose" to attend a charter school which arbitrarily receives less funding than a traditional public school. Families who can afford private schools and choose that option really get the shaft.

One would think that the state legislature would attempt to fix this mess. Unfortunately, the legislature is often driven more by politics than making sound policy decisions. "Compromise" becomes the excuse for passing bad legislation. Currently, the state House of Representatives is considering legislation to "reform" charter school laws. The words may not exist to describe the incredible randomness of this legislation. Among the many components of the "compromise" bill which even its supporters describe as "imperfect" is a logically bankrupt attempt to fix something called the "charter school pension double dip." Because charter schools receive a payment from school districts equal to 50% to 100% of the charter school’s pension costs and the charter schools receive a payment from the state equal to 50% of the charter school’s pension costs, school districts are demanding a fix. The legislature’s solution? Pacify the school districts and let them deduct ALL pension costs from their payment to charter schools, leaving charter schools with only enough funding to cover half of their pension costs. Just to make it more fair, they would apply this "fix" only to cyber charter schools.

So, where is a charter school supposed to get the money to pay for the other half of their pension costs? Since they don’t have taxing authority and they don’t charge tuition, they’ll have to cut spending, likely leading to higher student-to-teacher ratios, or lower-paid teachers. This not only limits the charter school’s ability to attract and retain experienced teachers, but, it also tells all charter school students that the state considers them to be second-class citizens, not deserving of the same resources provided to their neighbors who pay the same taxes. Some folks think that’s OK because families CHOOSE to send their kids to charter schools. Those folks don’t understand that charter school families don’t see it that way because they often choose to send their children to charter schools out of desperation and extreme dissatisfaction with the school district assigned to them by the government. So, first, the school district let’s these kids down. Then, the state lets the school district kick them again by spending less on them than they spend on the students who don’t have the audacity to leave.

We do need charter school funding reform. If we’re going to do it, we should do it right. Rather than passing obviously defective legislation that only addresses random flaws in the current system with logically bankrupt solutions, the legislature should take the time to do the job right and leave the politics out of it.

Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania (CAP) is a non-profit organization founded to raise the standard of living of all Pennsylvanians by restoring limited government, economic freedom, and personal responsibility. By empowering the Commonwealth’s employers and taxpayers to break state government’s "Iron Triangle" of career politicians, bureaucrats, and Big Government lobbyists, this restoration will occur and Pennsylvania will prosper.

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