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How are charter schools funded?

How are charter schools funded? While charter schools receive some limited funding from the state, the vast majority of their funding comes from school districts. When a student decides to attend either a brick and mortar or a cyber charter school, the school district of residence pays the charter school tuition for that student.
 
The tuition rate paid by a school district to a charter school is the same regardless of whether a student attends a brick and mortar charter school or a cyber charter school. The tuition amount is based entirely upon the school district’s costs. As a result, there are 500 charter school tuition rates—one for each school district. That means that a cyber charter school that educates students from multiple school districts receives an entirely different amount for each student.

The charter school tuition calculation is included in the charter school law, and it is broken into two parts: regular education tuition and special education tuition. Today, we’ll examine the regular education tuition rate.

The calculation is relatively simple, and it is completed by a school district and posted by the PA Department of Education annually. A school district starts with their budgeted total expenditures from the prior school year (for the current school year, school districts used their budgeted 2017-18 expenditures)—this means that they use what they budgeted at the beginning of the prior year to calculate the rate, not what they actually spent during the prior year.

Then, they make some deductions (see the yellow box above). The Public School Code specifically allows deductions for several expenditures—these expenditures either reflect areas where charter schools have no corresponding cost (such as nonpublic school-related expenditures), where school districts provide services to charter schools (such as transportation) or where charter schools receive state funding for the same purpose as school districts (such as Ready to Learn Block Grant funds; federal funds are also deducted for this reason).

The charter school law also requires school districts to deduct their special education expenditures from the calculation when determining the regular education tuition rate. These school district expenditures are factored back in when calculating the special education tuition rate (we’ll cover that later this week!).

The total school district budgeted expenditures minus the appropriate deductions is then divided by a school district’s ADMs. The result is the regular education charter school tuition rate.

The resulting regular education tuition rate is unique to each individual school district and is reflective of school district budgeted expenditures. In 2017-18, the regular education charter school tuition rate ranged from a low of about $8,000 per student to a high of more than $18,000 per student.

Click on the image link below to view our interactive map illustrating for each school district the 2017-18 regular education charter school tuition rate and average annual % increase in the charter school tuition rate. This is the rate paid by a school district for each resident student attending either a brick and mortar charter school or a cyber charter school.