June 29, 2021

Charles Nippert: Pa.’s charter school law is overdue for updating

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Charles Nippert is a former faculty member at Widener University who currently sits on the Pottsgrove School Board in Pennsylvania. He’s also a fan of Milton Friedman and the free market, and yet, he agrees with critics that Pennsylvania’s charter school law needs to be fixed.

Now, let’s talk about taxes. Education, either traditional public education or education from other sources, such as charter costs money. “Free” education is not free. It must be paid for. Pennsylvania pays for public education using property taxes. School boards should act to restrain costs. That’s why school boards must approve school district budgets. In Pennsylvania, school boards have no input in cyber charter budgets. In part, that is a result of the thinking of conservative economists, like Milton Friedman (remember him?). They thought market competition would keep prices low because people would balance educational choice and costs.

Today, things are different from what the economists anticipated. The state sets the charge for cyber charter schools, disrupting the free market that Friedman (and a lot of us) support. Why? Part of the reason may be that when the current law was written cyber was beginning. Back then, few people had any idea what cyber schools would cost. Early startups in any new venture are expensive. Programmers, software writers and teachers may love their work but they have to be paid. Government stepped in to “help.” Government did what many conservatives have always feared, created an arbitrary solution through a “one size fits all” funding formula.

Because of Covid-19, virtual education costs are now well known. The state needs to adjust the funding formula for cyber education. This funding can reduce taxes by reducing cyber payments to a level that fairly reflects cyber’s costs. Both the traditional school districts and for-profit competitors need funding formulae that reflect the needs of the community and a realistic assessment of costs.

Read the complete op-ed here.

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