For 20 years, Pennsylvania’s Public Cyber Charter Schools have been the right choice for tens of thousands of families across the Commonwealth. Immediately after the COVID-19 pandemic forced brick and mortar schools to close, all 14 public, cyber charter schools unanimously agreed to support any brick and mortar school as they transitioned to virtual education. As partners in Pennsylvania’s public school network, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School Association (PCCSA) believes all students deserve the best educational opportunities in order to reach their full potential. Despite good faith efforts by public, cyber charter schools, groups opposed to allowing parents to choose the best schools for their children continue to level misleading claims. As educators, it is incumbent upon PCCSA to provide accurate information.
“Prior to the pandemic, charter school tuition costs were rated as the biggest source of budget pressure for school districts according to PSBA’s annual State of Education survey. That is due largely to the inequitable and flawed charter school funding system which results in tuition costs increasing at a much faster rate than charter school enrollments and school district overpayments. Since 2007-2008, charter school tuition costs have grown by more than $1.4 billion, or approximately 230% while charter school enrollments have only increased approximately 113%.“ ~John M Callahan, Chief Advocacy Officer, PSBA
- The increase in charter school tuition reimbursement (costs) is a direct result of school districts spending more to educate a child who resides within their district.
- School districts raise taxes based on anticipated budgetary expenditures predominantly determined by increasing mandated costs.
- School districts use Form 363, developed by the Department of Education, to determine the tuition reimbursement to charter schools.
- Charter School Law allows school districts to deduct 7 items from the tuition reimbursement to charter schools.
- Although not authorized by the charter school law, PDE increased the number of allowable deductions to 21, resulting in a greater funding disparity between traditional public schools and public charter schools.
“In 2018-19, total charter school tuition payments (cyber and brick-and-mortar) were more than $2.0 billion. Nearly $606 million of that total was tuition to cyber charter schools. And, without any changes in law, the cost of charter school tuition for school districts continues to grow.” ~ John M Callahan, Chief Advocacy Officer, PSBA
- Charter school tuition reimbursement (costs) continue to grow because school districts spend more year over year.
- Charter school tuition reimbursement increases in proportion to the number of students who enroll in charter schools.
- Oppositional groups seek legislation that limits a parent’s ability to choose the best educational model for their child.
“School districts will be woefully unprepared for such an exodus to cyber charter schools and have little, if any, potential solutions to the budget impacts this would have. The amount paid specifically to cyber charter schools was already projected to increase by approximately $200 million over the 2019-2020 fiscal year costs, and that is before factoring-in potentially significant enrollment increases due to the pandemic.“
~John M Callahan, Chief Advocacy Officer, PSBA
- Charter school funding is designed to follow the student in order to ensure equity across all public schools.
- School districts are projecting an increase in charter school tuition reimbursements because more parents are choosing charter schools for their children thus saving expenses for the home school district.
- School districts save additional funds for every student enrolled in a charter school.
- If school districts do not meet the current needs of their students, they will continue to marginalize the children who most need a safe, supportive, and equitable public school environment.
“PSBA once again urges the Legislature to work to provide savings by adopting charter school funding reforms that are predictable, accurate and reflect the actual costs to educate students in regular and special education programs.” ~John M Callahan, Chief Advocacy Officer, PSBA
- During the House Education Committee Hearing on January 21, 2020, Ms. Beagan of Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3 affirmed that it costs $5,160 to provide a virtual education to both a general education student and a special education student.
- Due to the pandemic, all schools operated under a continuity of education plan that provided some form of remote and/or virtual learning for a period of approximately 12 weeks.
- Using the $5,160 figure provided in testimony, the 12 week prorated cost to educate a child should have been $1,720.
- If we assume that the average cost to educate a child in Pennsylvania is approximately $18,400, the average expense for educating a child for a period of 12 weeks is approximately $6,133.
- The difference would be a savings of $4,413 per child.
- Thus, for a school district with 3,000 students, running remote/virtual education for 12 weeks should have produced a savings of $13.2 million for the district.
- Despite these potential savings, throughout two days of testimony before the House Education Committee, all groups representing traditional public schools requested additional funding to support the virtual education model.
“A doubling of cyber charter enrollment, or approximately 35,000 additional students statewide, could potentially add more than $600 million to school districts’ budgets in 2020-21 on top of the anticipated $153 million increase in charter school tuition expected from 2020-21 tuition rate increases, which are unaffected by COVID-19.” ~Shawn Sampson, Business Manager, Titusville Area School District
- Tuition rate increases are determined by the spending of the local school district not public, cyber charter schools.
- Across Pennsylvania, the charter school tuition reimbursement is approximately 75% of how much the school district spends to educate a child within their district.
- $600 Million is 1.8% of the more than $33 Billion that school districts will spend during the 2020-2021 school year.
We do know that local revenue will continue to be impacted by COVID-19, as assessment appeals related to the pandemic will not begin to hit until next fiscal year—the extent of which is unknown. All of this will happen as federal funds go away, as state revenue is unlikely to increase and as mandated costs—particularly charter school tuition and special education costs—will continue to increase.” ~Shawn Sampson, Business Manager, Titusville Area School District
- Pennsylvania’s school districts have more than $4.6 Billion in their reserve funds.Charter school funding is designed to follow the student and be distributed by the school district.
- Special education costs are mandated by both the State and Federal Governments.
- Other mandated costs that continue to increase and affect school district spending include:
- Personnel Costs
“We are hopeful that this will provide an opportunity to change public education—making it stronger, more adaptable and more innovative—for the future.“ ~Shawn Sampson, Business Manager, Titusville Area School District
- PCCSA completely agrees.
- The current challenges facing our communities will require all public school entities to work together to support every student regardless of the school they attend.
- Pennsylvania’s public, cyber charter schools are committed to supporting every school as they develop virtual education programs that meet the needs and expectations of Pennsylvania’s parents and students.