Selected readings on US charter schools
In the last 15 months, charter schools statewide have filed 231 identical appeals with the Department of Education challenging the formula used to determine funding. If the charter schools win the appeals, then it will cost districts over $100 million annually statewide.
Pittsburgh Public Schools Solicitor Ira Weiss said the district is aggressively defending the appeals as a ruling in favor of Urban Pathways would up the district’s charter school payments by several million dollars annually. Because the legal challenge is the same in each case, it’s likely the Urban Pathways ruling will be applied to the others.
Because of their higher concentration of charter schools, the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh school districts would be hit the hardest. Pittsburgh Public Schools pays $12,000 to charter schools for each student that attends, a cost that doubles to $24,000 for special education students.
Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said what is at the heart of these complaints is the inequity between districts and charter schools in regard to securing federal funding. Fayfich’s organizations is not directly involved in the case, but does support the action of the charter schools.
The appeals filed ask Gov. Tom Corbett’s education secretary to no longer allow districts to deduct the federal portion of their instructional costs when they calculate the per-pupil tuition required to send students to charter schools.
Charter schools were set up by former Gov. Tom Ridge’s administration in 1997 to provide a free alternative to parents and students who are not satisfied with the educational opportunities offered by a district’s traditional public schools.
Payments to charter schools are based on the amount districts spend per student minus a series of deductions. The original charter school legislation outlines seven deductions school districts are entitled to subtract from charter schools payments, which includes funds spent on transportation, adult education, community college programs, facilities and debt services.
Charter schools are arguing that under the 1997 charter school legislation, districts do not have the right to withhold funds based on an additional 14 deductions that have been added to the PDE-363, which is the form used by school districts to calculate their charter school payments.
“With the current methodology, after the districts go through and make all of their deductions, on average charter schools are only receiving about 70 percent of what the expense is to educate that student in the district,” Fayfich said.
Fayfich said Pittsburgh Public Schools has one of the highest deductions in the state, and because different districts take different deductions, funding gets even more complicated as most charter schools enroll students from multiple districts.
In the 2011-2012 school year, Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts for $508 million in federal funds while the 173 charter schools statewide received $6 million.
“There is this concept that charter schools have access to federal funds so they shouldn’t be getting reimbursed by the districts,” Fayfich said. “That would make sense if there charter schools were actually eligible for these funds…Clearly, there is something wrong with the way things are being funded.”
Weiss said it is hard to imagine the charter lobby would seek more public money.
“What I really hope is that this case will bring about meaningful charter reform,” Weiss said. “The fund mechanism needs to be reformed.”
In regard to the status of the appeal of Urban Pathways Charter School, the charter school filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which the court has not yet acted upon, according to Tim Eller, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Urban Pathways CEO Linda Clauitti said she was not able to comment on the matter. The school as well as the other charter school appeals that have been filed are being represented by Exton-based Latsha Davis & McKenna P.C.
A date has not been set for the hearing, however Weiss said all documents related to the case must be filed by the end of October. The education secretary will decide whether the funding formula should continue to allow for the federal deductions that are in question.
“I hope this is a catalyst,” Weiss said. “Maybe it will make it clear to the Legislature that there is something very wrong with the system.”
Source: Pittsburgh Business Times – by Justine Coyne