Harrisburg – Yesterday, Governor Tom Wolf announced that he has directed the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to charge charter schools a $15 fee-for-service beginning September 15. Charters will be charged this fee-for-service every time they request PDE to redirect school district funds to cover unpaid charter tuition payments. The following is a statement from Ana Meyers, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, on the Governor’s announcement.
“As schools welcomed back students this week, PA’s public charter schools were blindsided once again by Governor Wolf’s attacks on their schools and their students. Yesterday’s announcement that the Governor has directed the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to begin charging charter schools a fee-for-service beginning this month is unwarranted, detrimental and discriminatory.
First, requiring charter schools to pay PDE to redirect unpaid tuition payments from school districts to charter schools is outlandish and insulting. The Public School Code requires that school districts make 12 equal payments to charter schools for the tuition of the students they serve. Unfortunately, many school districts refuse to make these state-mandated payments, leaving charter schools and their students at a disadvantage. The only recourse for charter schools is to request that PDE redirect the tuition amount they are owed from the school district to the charter school, which is provided for by state law (24 P.S. § 17-1725-A(a)(5)).
The Governor admits, in his press release, that PDE “processed more than 13,500 requests of this type in 2018, a 60 percent increase in seven years” – – that is 13,500 instances when school districts have deliberately broken the law and faced no punishment. Now, not only will there be no consequences for school districts that do not make their charter tuition payments, Governor Wolf wants to charge the charter schools $15 for every redirection payment that PDE processes! Our Governor is literally punishing charter schools and their students every time a district breaks the law. (Note: PDE would have made a profit of $202,500+ off the backs of charter school students last year had the Governor’s fee-for-service been in place. We would love to know how paying PDE a fee will “recoup” money for taxpayers, as Wolf said in his press release, and how PDE plans to use the profits they will now be making.)
Secondly, the Governor’s actions yesterday have the potential to drastically impact the financial stability of charter schools across the Commonwealth and would be devastating to cyber charter schools, which educate students from all 500 school districts. Currently, we are aware of a list of 151 districts that did not pay their charter schools directly last year and we are expecting that number to grow, as they now have an incentive to break the law.
Pennsylvania charter schools educate a higher percentage of students in poverty compared to school districts (66 percent compared to 43 percent); a higher percentage of special education students than school districts (16 percent compared to 15 percent); and a significantly higher percentage of black students compared to school districts (43 percent compared to 12 percent). Governor Wolf’s attacks on public charter schools will disproportionately harm Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable students who should be receiving MORE support and resources to ensure their success.
Finally, it is clear that the Governor’s intentions are not to improve public education for every student but to punish parents and students who have chosen to leave a school district that was failing them and enroll in a public charter school. If Wolf’s intentions were genuine, he would have proposed a plan to hold ALL public schools to the same high standards but instead he penalizes an entire subset of public schools, because they are not his political allies, and rewards years of academic failures and financial mismanagement by school districts with billions of taxpayer dollars. If this truly was a financial issue and the goal was to recoup taxpayer dollars, I am certain that PA’s 500 school districts – especially the districts under financial watch/recovery – require much more time and resources than our Commonwealth’s 180 charter schools. When will the Governor be announcing the fee that PDE will be charging school districts for the services they provide? For example, will Governor Wolf be charging PSERS every time a school district refuses to make their mandated pension payments and the Department has to redirect that money from a district’s Basic Education Funding allocation? I doubt the thousands of public school employees would appreciate their funds being used to pay PDE for a service that is only necessary because a school district breaks the law.
PA’s charter school leaders, staff, students and parents are sick and tired of being treated like second-class citizens by Governor Wolf. Charter students already receive 25 percent less funding for their education because their school district gets to keep a quarter of their tuition. Now the school districts that have failed these children will have the ability to take more money and resources away from them and give it to bureaucrats. The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools will take any action necessary to ensure charter students receive the same resources and free, public education afforded to students in district schools.”
The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools (PCPCS), is the state’s largest and most active organization advocating for both brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools. Pennsylvania’s 180 charter schools educate 37,000+ students and demand for these public schools continue to grow with more than 40,000 students on charter school waitlists. For more information on PCPCS or charters schools, visit www.pacharters.org.