Lawrence Feinberg and Robert Gleason: HB 1422 Cyber Charter Reform – A Bipartisan Call to Get it Done
Robert Gleason is a past long-time chair of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party. Lawrence Feinberg is director of Keyston Center for Charter Change. Both are long time school board members, and both believe it’s time for Pennsylvania to fix its cyber charter funding formula.
School boards in 466 out of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts have passed board resolutions calling for common-sense reforms to the state’s 26-year-old charter school law, such as those included in House Bill 1422.
That’s several thousand locally elected, volunteer school directors – Republicans and Democrats – responsible for levying taxes on their neighbors in order to fund public education.
In July, the state House of Representatives, in a bipartisan vote which saw 20 GOP members join with Democrats, agreed with those school directors and voted for HB 1422, which makes comprehensive and long overdue reforms to the way cyber charter schools are funded and governed.
Most importantly, HB 1422 establishes a statewide tuition rate of $8,000 per non-special education student and a tiered tuition rate for special education students that more accurately reflects the lower cost of providing a virtual education and that provides resources based on a student’s special education needs.
The cyber charter community has come out strong against HB 1422 alleging that the reduction in tuition rates will close schools and eliminate school choice. However, that’s simply not true and based on a desperate desire to hang on to the status quo in which cyber charter schools are benefiting by hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in profit.
Think that’s an exaggeration? In the annual audit for the 2021-22 school year, the state’s largest cyber charter school reported total revenues of $397.5 million, while only incurring $275 million in expenses, for a profit of $122.5 million. Statewide, the reforms included in HB 1422 could save school districts – and taxpayers – more than $400 million.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is not a school choice issue. This is simply about the most efficient and effective way to use limited resources to provide public education. When you sit on a school board like we do and you see how much money is going to cyber charter schools, you start to take issue with those ubiquitous (and expensive) ads that say cyber charter schools are “free” when you know that you’re going to have to raise taxes on your friends and neighbors or cut programs and services to kids in your school district to pay those costs.