CHARTER SCHOOL REFORM
More than 400 school districts in Pennsylvania have passed resolutions calling for charter school reform. Charter school reform is critical to an equitable, high-quality education. As part of his 2021-2022 state budget, Governor Wolf is proposing reform to the PA Charter School Law, widely known and supported by research as the worst charter school law in the country, that will ensure all public schools are able to provide this equitable, high-quality education for ALL students. The reform proposed by Governor Wolf would put over $395 million back into the hands of school districts.
The charter school legislation proposed by Governor Wolf would:
- Establish performance standards that hold charter schools accountable for the educational outcomes of students and a moratorium on new cyber charter schools
- Cap student enrollment in low performing cyber charter schools until outcomes improve
- Require charter management companies be subject to the Right to Know Act, State Ethics Act, and post employee salaries on PDE's website, similar to requirements already in place for public school districts
- Create fair, predictable, and equitable funding for school districts, including in the areas of special education funding and cyber charter tuition payments
Contact Your Senator Now!
Senate committee moves charter, voucher bills to the Senate floor
On Monday, June 7, the Senate Education Committee sent to the Senate floor two bills strongly opposed by PSBA – a flawed charter school plan does not address funding reform and a proposal to establish a school voucher program. PSBA is calling on the Senate to reject these bills:
- Senate Bill 1, (Sen. Martin, R-Lancaster) is a charter school reform proposal as well as an automatic Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program funding escalator. Although the bill contains provisions which increase charter school transparency and accountability, it does not provide funding reform and would create a statewide charter authorizing commission that removes local control at district and taxpayer expense.
- Senate Bill 733 (Sen. Ward, R-Blair) creates the Education Opportunity Account Scholarship (EOAS) program, the latest attempt to establish an education voucher program in the commonwealth that would cost taxpayers as much as $600 million according to estimates. It de-funds public schools and sets the stage for a far more expansive tuition voucher program in the future.
We are continuing our campaign to defeat these bills, including joint efforts with a coalition of organizations opposed to vouchers. Click here to read PSBA’s letter opposing Senate Bill 1. Click here to read the letter from Pennsylvanians Opposed to Vouchers.
Contact your senators NOW
Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 733 are scheduled for fast-track movement in the Senate. Please contact your senator right now using the two letters that PSBA has prepared on each issue. We need to tell the Senate that these bills being rushed through are a giveaway of taxpayer dollars to private schools and do not address the real problems that need to be fixed. Use the letters that PSBA has prepared on each issue or contact your senator with your own message using the talking points in this alert. Click here for Senate contact information.
Click here to send a letter to your senator opposing Senate Bill 1.
Click here to send a letter to your senator opposing Senate Bill 733.
Senate Bill 1: Talking points
Key areas of concern with Senate Bill 1 are that it removes local control from the charter school authorizing process, does not address the critical need for charter funding reform, and creates an automatic escalator to the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program which will shift precious resources away from the majority of students in the commonwealth.
- The most significant flaw is the creation of a new statewide authorizing commission, allowing charter school to make an end run around local taxpayer control and diminishing any chance to ensure that charter schools are accountable and responsive to their local communities.
- As long as taxpayer dollars are taken from school district subsidies to fund charter schools, local control is essential. The statewide authorizer proposed in Senate Bill 1 undermines Pennsylvania’s long-standing tradition of local control. Creating a system that allows charter schools to shop for the authorizer with the least oversight and to transfer oversight away from their local school board essentially silences the voice of the school district and taxpayers footing the ever-increasing bill.
- Senate Bill 1 does not address the critical need for charter funding reform. It does not include any financial reform of the charter school tuition calculation that would provide needed relief to school districts that are over-paying millions of dollars in charter school tuition costs. In 2019-20, school districts in total spent nearly $2.2 billion in charter school tuition payments.
- The bill also dramatically expands the state’s two education tax credit programs. The proposal would take the current programs which cost $185 million for EITC and $55 million for the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC), and grow them to a combined $1 billion in five years, $3 billion in 10 years and $8.5 billion annually in 15 years by including an automatic annual 25% increase escalator. With the Independent Fiscal Office projecting multi-billion-dollar state revenue deficits over the next several years, such a drastic increase when difficult state budgets as well as increasingly restrictive school district budgets lie ahead in the forceable future is extremely concerning.
Senate Bill 733: Talking points
Senate Bill 733 establishes the “Education Opportunity Account Scholarship Program for Exceptional Students,” the latest iteration of school vouchers. It gives the false impression of seeking to help students with special needs. In truth, this proposal will have a negative impact on this student population due to its implementation and the resulting funding cuts to public schools.
- In order to be eligible for an EOAS, a child must be in grades K-12, a resident of Pennsylvania, and meet at least one eligibility criteria from each of the following categories:
- The child must have an individualized education program, a 504 plan, a gifted individualized education plan, a diagnosed disability recognized under federal law, or a diagnosis that qualifies for Early Intervention Services; and
- The child must have attended public school in the prior semester or school year, received funds from the EOAS program in a prior year, will attend kindergarten or first grade, is currently in foster care, has an adoption decree that was entered less than 1 year ago, or is the child of active duty military.
- The potential financial impact of SB 733 on school districts could easily total $600 million based on estimated program utilization. This estimate does not account for students with 504 plans who don’t have an IEP, or children diagnosed with a medical disability. Senate Bill 733 would also create an incentive for parents to have their children identified as gifted in order to access a voucher.
- Nonpublic schools are not governed by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) which guarantees students with disabilities and their parents with significant rights, services and protections related to the student’s education. Under Senate Bill 733, the state would be prohibited from requiring a nonpublic school receiving state education resources to comply with IDEA or state regulations governing special education even though those resources would be allocated under the proposed voucher program. Ultimately, families and students are more vulnerable without these protections.
- State money for EOAS vouchers would be deducted from a school district’s subsidy. The bill calculates the voucher by taking 90% percent of all state revenue provided to a school district, including property tax relief money, transportation subsidy and pension reimbursement, and dividing by a school district’s average daily membership (ADM) to calculate the base voucher amount. For students with disabilities, the base voucher amount would then be increased based on the category of disability.
- Senate Bill 733 also requires resident school districts to provide transportation to nonpublic schools but fails to deduct transportation funding from the base calculation. This creates a double-dip whereby a voucher will include a portion of a district’s transportation subsidy, but the nonpublic entity isn’t responsible for paying for it.
- Voucher funds may be spent on services beyond K-12 education such as: higher education tuition and textbooks, 529 college savings plans, private financial management firm fees, fees for college entrance exams, postsecondary course prep, and costs associated with an industry certification.
- SB 733 also fails to establish consistent academic accountability for the voucher program. It gives participating students the choice of whether to use the state assessment system or a nationally-normed assessment which will effectively prevent a true comparison and analysis of the voucher program’s effectiveness. And, while test results must be reported to PDE, the department is only allowed to post the results after the third year of test and graduation data is reported.
- Pennsylvania should not be pulling millions of tax dollars out of public education and diverting it to private institutions or private service providers.
Be informed! Additional information on charter school funding and performance that support the need for reform can be found here.
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