October 4, 2021

George F. Pyo: Attention all taxpayers: You should be asking for charter school funding reform, too

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George F. Pyo is the president of the Penn Cambria School District board of education. This op-ed was published in the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, PA. Pennsylvania’s governor has been pushing for charter school funding reform.

It’s hard to turn on the TV or radio these days and not see some sort of advertisement for a cyber charter school. The ads are all quick to point out that they are public schools and parents can have their child attend at no cost to them. While this is absolutely true, what the ads don’t say is that the cost is covered by taxpayers who are funding a second public education system.

Charter school funding comes mostly in the form of tuition payments from local school districts for each one of their students who chooses to attend the charter school.

School districts will spend in excess of $2.5 billion dollars this school year on charter school tuition. Where does the money come from to pay for these tuition bills? You and me, the local taxpayer.

As a member of the Penn Cambria School Board, I can attest to the amount of consideration that goes into a school board’s decision on local taxes.

Serving on the board, I’ve learned one key fact – that school districts have very little control over spending due to mandated costs such as charter school tuition payments.

When a student from our district chooses to enroll in a charter school, as is their right, the school district is required by law to send a tuition payment to the charter school for that student.

The concept makes sense but because of the flaws in the way those tuition payments are calculated, the result is pressure on school district budgets and increased taxes on local communities.

But don’t school districts save money when a student leaves for a charter school?

The answer is no. First, charter schools also enroll students who had previously been enrolled in private schools or home-schooled. This represents entirely new costs for our school district since these students were not previously enrolled in the district.

Second is increased transportation costs. Our district is required by law to transport charter school students, including students whose charter school is located up to 10 miles outside of the district, and on days when the district schools are not in session.

Finally, there are stranded costs that stay with the school district even after a student enrolls in a charter school.

Read the entire op-ed here.

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