PCPCS urges PA Dept. of Ed. to speed up payments to replace payments from School Districts in default
June 15, 2011
The following is a letter sent to The PA Department of Education Director of Budget and Fiscal Management, Barbara Nelson, concerning a recent development at the May 24th summit between Charter School CEO’s and the PA Department of Education. In the overflowing room, the Department verbally explained to the Charter School community that a charter school can receive funds redirected to it sooner than the date indicated on the Unipay timeline posted on the Department’s website. For the vast majority of Charter Schools, the refusal or delay to pay by School Districts causes an undue hardship, hindering their sworn ability to provide public education.
Here is the letter the PCPCS sent to the Department of Education for clarity on speeding up the process of paying Charter Schools:
Attn: Barbara Nelson
Bureau of Budget and Fiscal Management
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17126
Thank you for meeting with me and other concerned members of the charter school community on May 24, 2011. After that meeting, I feel that we all have a much better understanding of how the Department of Education will address the redirection of funds to charter schools when school districts refuse to pay.
As you know, when a school district refuses to pay a charter school, the Charter School Las requires the Secretary of Education to withhold the estimated amounts documented by the charter school “from any and all State payments made to the district after receipt of documentation from the charter school.” 24 P.S. 17-1725-A(a)(5). Immediate action is required because “as between the school district and the charter school, the legislature has decided that more harm will befall a charter school that is not paid timely and accurately than upon a school district that may experience a delay in the receipt of the state subsidy to which it is entitled.” Chester Community Charter School v. Department of Education, 996 A.2d 6 (Pa. Comwlth., 2010).
It is our understanding from the Department’s Manual of Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pennsylvania Public Schools that school districts receive state payments at least twice a month: social security subsidies are paid to school districts on the first Thursday of each month, and “unipay” payments are made to school districts on the last Thursday of each month. Various other payments are made to districts throughout the year. Therefore, a charter school that has not been paid by a school district should never be more than a few weeks away from having funds redirected to it once it completes all of the necessary paperwork.
However, it is also our understanding that because so many districts fail to pay charter schools that the Department of Education made and administrative decision to redirect payments to charter schools less often. Specifically, the Unipay timeline posted on the Department of Education’s website suggests that redirection are made from Unipay payments only, and that they are made on in October, December, February, April, and on June 1. Documentation for the Jun 1 redirection is required by April 25, meaning that under this schedule, a charter school that is not paid in May would potentially have to wait almost six months (until the last Thursday in October) in order to have funds redirected to it.
We were obviously concerned with a system that does not appear to comply with the requirements of the Charter School Law however, at our meeting on May 24, 2011, you explained to us that a charter school can have funds redirected to it sooner than the next date indicated that the Unipay timeline posted on the Department’s website. Specifically, you indicated that any school that cannot wait until the next payment date should state in the it’s redirection request that it needs the the redirection request to be handled in an expedited manner and it will be handled as an “advance”. The Department will then process the redirection request as soon as possible once all of the necessary paperwork is received from the charter school.
We great appreciate your clarification of the Department’s procedure for processing requests for redirection in compliance with the requirements of the Charter School Law. We will let the members of the Coalition and other interested charter schools know about the Department’s process.
Thanks you again for your time and effort Please do not hesitate to cal me if you would like to discuss this matter further.
Very truly yours,
Lawrence F. Jones
Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter School