Schools may get windfall: Cyber reform measure would redirect funding to local districts

by John Finnerty, The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown), Mar 07, 2013,

HARRISBURG — Public school districts may finally get help in their struggle to recapture some of the money that has followed students who choose to enroll in charter schools rather than attend the local bricks-and-mortar school system.

State Rep. James Roebuck Jr., D-Philadelphia, unveiled a comprehensive cyber school funding reform bill Thursday that was largely modeled on recommendations made by Auditor General Jack Wagner in a special report released during the summer.

The projected savings would be four times the amount that Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed to increase in the state’s basic education funding this year.

Pennsylvania, on average, paid more per student enrolled in charter school than any of the others states in the U.S. in the top five in terms of number of students enrolled in charter schools, the auditor general found.

Pennsylvania paid more than $12,000 per student in charter school, according to an analysis by Wagner that was completed last summer.

Pennsylvania pays charter schools the same rate that traditional public schools receive per student, even though charter schools, particularly computer-based schools, do not cost as much to operate.

Wagner recommended setting the rate for bricks-and-mortar charter schools at $10,000 per student and the rate for cyber students at $6,500 per student.

Wagner said the state could redirect as much as $365 million back to the local school districts by doing a better job sorting out how much of the state’s educational dollars should follow students who stay at home to study online or study in a bricks-and-mortar charter school.

Co-sponsors of the Roebuck charter school funding legislation include Reps. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, and Gary Haluska, D-Patton.

More than half of the $365 million in savings would come from limiting the amount that bricks-and-mortar charter schools could charge for tuition.

Reforms to the funding streams used to pay computer-based cyber charter schools, more popular in rural areas, would account for about $105 million and eliminating a loophole that pays charter schools twice for pension costs would save another $50 million a year….

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