Proposed Pennsylvania Legislation to Revise Charter School Funding Dies

Last Updated: October 29, 2012

This article appeared in the October 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

Editor's note: Links are free and current at time of posting, but may require registration or expire over time.

Pennsylvania legislators were unable to agree on how to improve the troubled charter school system in the state before adjourning for the election. The state’s charter funding system has received growing national attention, in part due to ongoing struggles and a lawsuit by the Chester-Upland District, where funding for regular schools has been drastically reduced. See previous RSFN coverage here

One bill that was introduced but not taken up would have imposed stricter fiscal requirements for charter schools. Those would have included limiting the fund balances charters are allowed to carry, requiring year-end audits, and requiring charters to return overpayments to local school districts. It would also have balanced funding between traditional public schools and charter and cyber schools for pension costs and special education. Under current law school districts in which charters operate must provide funding to charters and cyber schools for these items at rates that are much higher than in the traditional schools.

These recommendations come in the context of the growing influence in Pennsylvania of private operators of public charter schools whose high profit margins have drawn attention. Many policymakers and citizens believe for-profit operators have undue influence over state charter policy.

Another piece of legislation that would have changed Pennsylvania’s 15-year old charter law was stopped at the last minute in the Pennsylvania House after it lost significant support among Republican lawmakers, responding, according to some reports, to concerns from local school boards and citizens in their districts. That bill would have limited charter fund balances. But it would also have established a new charter commission and placed many charter school finance reform questions under its purview. Many legislators suggested that provisions for the commission would make it overly partial to charter schools, a concern many political analysts cite as the likely reason the bill did not pass.

A provision to establish a new charter authorizing system that could override local district decisions had already been removed from the bill.

The bill also faced opposition from legislators who wanted stronger reforms to the funding of cyber charter schools, which in Pennsylvania receive the same state allotment as traditional brick and mortar public schools. These cyber schools are mostly privately operated and report high profit margins.

Governor Tom Corbett, who is an outspoken supporter of privatization, has made changes to charter policy a priority and has said he will fight for a new charter school bill in January.

Read more:


Read more from the October 2012 Rural Policy Matters.