We recently reached out to Rep. Joe Ciresi to share his thoughts on his co-sponsored House Bill, HB 272. We appreciate him taking the time to share with our group.
The pursuit of progress in government never ends.
Since Pennsylvania adopted its state constitution in 1776, lawmakers and citizens alike have tried to improve and perfect one of our core, collective responsibilities – the public education of our children. The constitution calls on the General Assembly to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education” (Article 3, Section B).
I can tell you that many facets of public charter schools are inefficient. As a former school board member and now the representative of the 146th District in the General Assembly, I have taken on this issue as one of my top priorities.
Did you know that cyber charter schools are reimbursed by the school districts their students come from in wildly disparate rates? It all depends on the districts’ per pupil rate. House Bill 272, which I introduced along with Rep. Wendi Thomas (R-Bucks), will make sure cyber charter schools calculate their tuition using a single, statewide, data-driven rate and use the state’s existing cost-driven Fair Funding Formula to determine special education payments.
It’s time for a restart. HB 272 can save over $200 million annually, which is why it has garnered over 65 bipartisan co-sponsors.
This reform is long overdue, in part, because Pennsylvania’s charter law was written in 1997. The only major change made was five years later to allow charter schools to go fully online – to have students learn from home, but the cyber charter still collect the same tuition dollars. That was in 2002, which, amazingly, was almost 20 years ago. Think about how much technology has changed. It’s time to have a charter school law built for the future, not the past.
Today, 20 cents of every dollar paid in property taxes goes to charter schools, and just 14 charter schools are being paid more than a half-billion in tax dollars every year. That is not sustainable, and we’re seeing kids suffer as a result.
Another example of needed reform is how charter schools are reimbursed for special education costs.
In Pennsylvania, 90 percent of special education students fall into our lowest-cost range of up to $25,000. Of the remaining 10 percent, 7 percent cost between $25,000 to $50,000, while 3 percent are high-cost students requiring services costing $50,000 or more.
So, when we bill school districts on the average costs of all special education students, the tuition amount is driven higher by the few high-cost outliers. To make matters worse, the data shows that charter schools tend to enroll a higher proportion of the lowest cost students (94 percent) and fewer of the most expensive students (only 1.4 percent).
To be clear, special education students have an absolute right to all the services, in inclusive settings, that will help them reach their full potential. Property taxpayers have shouldered too much of the responsibility for paying for these rising costs. It’s time for the state to step up by substantially increasing our state subsidy for special education and fixing the charter tuition formula to ease school districts’ strained budgets.
I want to be clear that I am not an opponent of school choice. Charter schools will continue to operate in Pennsylvania. These reforms are about accountability, fairness, and lessening the tax burden on local districts statewide.
There is too much at stake to allow the status quo to continue. Please call or email your state representative if they are not yet a co-sponsor of HB 272.