Gov. Wolf, Lancaster Co. School Leaders Call for Bipartisan Charter School Plan to Save Nearly $400 Million
June 01, 2021
Protects taxpayers by reining in skyrocketing charter school costs
Protects students by holding low performing charter schools accountable
Protects the public trust by increasing transparency of for-profit management companies
With overwhelming support among school districts for his charter school accountability plan, Governor Tom Wolf visited J.P. McCaskey High School in Lancaster today to discuss his bipartisan proposal that saves an estimated $395 million a year.
“I want to fix Pennsylvania’s broken charter school law, improve education quality and accountability, and save schools and taxpayers $395 million while doing it,” said Gov. Wolf. “Charter schools should be focused on students – not profits. We are currently overpaying many charter schools for the services they provide.
“This plan isn’t about cutting funding – it’s about realigning what taxpayers pay with what it costs to provide a charter education to students. It’s about ensuring that every school, both charter and traditional, has the resources to give students the education they deserve.”
The rising cost of charter schools is draining funding from traditional public schools and forcing school districts to cut education programs and raise property raises. At the same time, many charter schools are underperforming. The urgent need for reform has led to more than 400 school boards, greater than 80 percent in the state, to pass resolutions calling for charter school reform.
The governor’s proposal protects taxpayers by modernizing how Pennsylvania funds charter schools to match actual costs rather than forcing school districts to overpay. The estimated $395 million a year in savings include $185 million by funding special education in charter schools the same way the state does for all other public schools and $210 million a year by establishing a statewide cyber charter school tuition rate.
Charter school accountability saving by county:
- Cumberland County school districts save $3.2 million,
- Lancaster County school districts save $4.6 million,
- Lebanon County school districts save $1.4 million,
- Perry County school districts save $1.2 million,
- York County school districts save $10.8 million.
Individual school districts savings in Lancaster County include:
- Columbia Borough SD saves $499,916
- Hempfield SD saves $600,492
- Penn Manor SD saves $295,318
- Solanco SD saves $284,494
- School District of Lancaster saves $322,363.
A complete list of savings by school district is available here.
“Pennsylvania’s charter school law is failing children, parents and taxpayers,” School District of Lancaster superintendent Damaris Rau said. “It is draining funding from traditional schools at a time when we can least afford it, and it is not improving educational outcomes for students. I commend Gov. Wolf for his leadership in advocating for reform.”
“School boards across Pennsylvania need relief from the inequitable financial burden of brick-and-mortar charter and cyber charter school costs,” said Robin Goodson, vice president of the School District of Lancaster school board. “We also call for high standards of academic performance and accountability for brick-and-mortar charter and cyber charter schools.”
In addition to saving nearly $400 million per year, Gov. Wolf’s bipartisan, commonsense reform plan:
- Protects students by creating charter school performance standards that hold low-performing charter schools accountable and rewarding high-performing charters with more flexibility. Cyber school enrollment would be limited until their educational quality improves.
- Protects the public trust by making for-profit charter school companies accountable. Charter schools would be required to have policies to prevent nepotism and conflicts of interest, so leaders do not use charter schools for their own financial benefit. Charter schools and their leaders would follow requirements of the State Ethics Commission, since they are public officials.
“The charter school law was originally established to create an incubator for innovative approaches to improving education, which it does in limited cases,” said Rep. Mike Sturla. “But all too often, it has become a mechanism to use taxpayer dollars for slick ad campaigns with the purpose of taking more taxpayer money while getting poor results. It is time to reform the law and end the deception. “
Despite costing taxpayers more than $2 billion a year, charter schools have little public oversight and no publicly elected school board. For-profit companies that manage many charter schools are not required to have independent financial audits.
Real school choice means quality learning. While some charter schools provide a great education, many charters, especially cyber charter schools, have poor educational outcomes. All 14 cyber schools in Pennsylvania are designated for federal school improvement, with the vast majority among the lowest 5 percent of public schools. A 2019 Stanford University report found overwhelming negative results from Pennsylvania’s cyber schools and urged state reform.
“These are commonsense solutions with bipartisan support,” said Gov. Wolf. “We all need the General Assembly to take these commonsense solutions and pass legislation to fix the law that is leaving students, school districts, and taxpayers behind.”
Directing $6.4 billion in state funding through the fair funding formula
The governor’s bipartisan charter school law reform plan is part of a larger proposal to fix the state’s unfair system for funding public education, including charter and cyber schools. The state’s fair funding formula created in 2016 is only used for new funding, about 11 percent, which is $700 million of state funding. The remaining 89 percent, or $5.5 billion, is still distributed based on student enrollment in 1992, without considering shifts in student counts or actual costs school districts face today. Urban and rural school districts with growing student enrollment must fill the funding gap with frequent property tax increases, adding to the burden of homeowners and businesses.
The governor’s proposal runs all existing basic education funding, $6.2 billion, plus a $200 million increase this year, through the fair funding formula. Separately, an additional $1.15 billion will ensure that no school loses a single dollar in state resources from using the formula.