(This guest post comes to us from friend of the blog Susan Spicka)
Cash-strapped school districts and tapped out home and business owners have been begging the PA legislature to reform its broken charter school funding law. Under current law, charter and cyber charter school tuition payments are not based on charter schools’ actual costs of educating children. In many cases, tuition rates to charter schools are so bloated that charter school operators are able to pocket millions of taxpayer dollars at the same time that our local school districts are raising taxes and slashing programs to pay their charter school tuition bills.
SB 1085 would close to so-called “pension double-dip” loophole in the current law by eliminating the state reimbursement to charter schools for their pension costs. Local school districts would continue to provide the funds that are used to pay the pension costs of charter school teachers.
SB 1085 is a rotten deal for school districts and for home and business owners, who pay property taxes to support our local public schools. If SB 1085 becomes law, the legislature will continue to mandate that home and business owners pay the pension costs of teachers who are not even employed by their school districts. School districts would find little relief from the burdensome charter school tuition payments, which range from around $8,000 to more than $30,000 per student per year.
SB 1085 is a truly sweet deal for the PA legislature. Eliminating the state reimbursement to charter schools for its share of pension costs would return $65 million to the PA General Fund. PA politicians would be free to spend this extra revenue as they please. Without a funding formula in place to allocate tax dollars to school districts, powerful legislators can cut deals behind closed doors, just like they did this year, and use the $65 million windfall to provide additional funding to a few of their favorite districts and make some voters happy in 2014, which happens to be an election year.
Adding insult to injury, SB 1085 would strip the power of our locally-elected school boards to approve or deny the opening of charter schools in our communities. If SB 1085 becomes law, charter schools would be authorized by an outside entity, set up shop in our communities, and send us the bill. This is a textbook example of taxation without representation.
The most offensive piece of this legislation, however, is the removal of a just few words. SB 1085 strips language requiring charter schools to be models of innovation for public schools. With this language stripped from the law, charter schools would have a green light to create a second, redundant system of public education in the commonwealth. Senate Bill 1085 would open the door to the unfettered expansion of charter schools throughout PA and mandate that local taxpayers fully fund every independently-operated charter school in Pennsylvania in addition to all of our traditional public schools. This is unsustainable and something that taxpayers can clearly not afford.
Worth noting is that during the education committee hearing on the bill, Senator Smucker, who sponsored the bill, admitted that he did not know that the language about charter schools being models of innovation had been stripped from the bill. (see here p. 21).
When the sponsor of a piece of legislation doesn’t know that key language has been taken out of his own bill, something smells very bad.
Senate Bill 1085 is NOT a good faith effort to improve public education in PA or to create a more efficient system for funding our public schools. Instead, it is a sick joke on the Pennsylvanians who continue to believe that Republican leaders in Harrisburg actually care about the children and taxpayers they were elected to represent.
Senate Bill 1085 reads like a wish list of the charter school lobby, which is perhaps the most powerful lobbying groups in Harrisburg. Please take a minute and call or email your state senator right now and demand that s/he oppose this bill. If lawmakers think that no one is watching, they just might do the bidding of the charter school lobby and make SB 1085 into law.