School districts across the state will usher in a new fiscal year with much-needed boosts for state basic education funding, special education funding and school safety as a result of the newly enacted state budget. The PA Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) applauds Governor Wolf and the General Assembly for their efforts in providing additional education resources in the new budget.  

However, our work is not done. PASBO remains committed to addressing charter school tuition costs when the General Assembly returns this fall. Without remedying charter school funding policy, the positive impact of the increases for education in the 2019-20 budget will be negated, and the $160 million increase in basic education funding for school districts will go directly to charter schools.
PASBO does not debate the existence of charter schools nor the important role they play in providing an alternative public education option for Pennsylvania students. However, charter school reforms are long overdue, and there is no reform need greater than the 22 year-old charter school tuition calculation.  

We remain steadfast that any effort at reform must prioritize charter school funding. Last year, school districts paid charter schools more than $1.8 billion in charter school tuition—a 10% increase from the prior year—which consumed $0.37 of every additional property tax dollar raised last year. 

When a school district's employee pension costs increase because the mandated employer contribution rate increases, charter school tuition rates go up. When a school district's special education costs increase because there are more students with more extensive needs, charter schools get more money per student. And when charter school tuition rates increase, charter schools get even more the following year. 

This isn't a new problem. There is a better way to fund charter schools, and it's not rocket science. If school districts could deduct their charter school tuition from the tuition calculation to ensure that it didn't unfairly ratchet up the tuition rate from year to year, it would save them $450 million. If school districts could use their actual percentage of special education students in the special education charter school tuition calculation instead of a fictitious number, it would save them $65 million. If school districts could cap the annual charter school tuition rate growth at their Act 1 index to mitigate annual cost increases, it would save them $96 million. 

If the state would take on the cost of cyber charter school tuition since the state is responsible for authorizing and overseeing cyber charter schools, it would save school districts $520 million.  

We need an honest conversation that leads to a real, meaningful and immediate solution, and we need it this fall. We all have to be at the table and agree that the charter school funding status quo can't continue. Failing to address this critical issue cancels out the education increases in the newly enacted state budget and ensures that the burden on school districts and taxpayers gets worse. 

Click here to access a pdf of this press release in its entirity.