Charter schools and their impact on local schools have garnered a lot of attention in national news, but did you know there have been a number of recent attempts to bring charter schools to the North Penn School District? What happens to our tax dollars, budgets, neighborhoods, and students if we allow charters to bring their business model to our community?
Charter schools are funded by taking a set amount of money, for each student attending the school, from their district of residence. The amount of money is calculated based on the cost to educate the child. The loss of revenue to local districts can lead to tax increases or program cuts. During the 2014-2015 school year, Souderton Charter School Collaborative, a charter school that primarily serves students that otherwise would attend the Souderton School District, took $2,661,403 dollars from local tax sources to fund its operation. In North Penn, that amount of money would pay for almost all North Penn student activities including sports, clubs, music and arts programs.
Souderton Charter School Collaborative has tried, twice, to set up a charter school here in North Penn. Local school boards get to decide initially whether or not a charter school application should be approved for our district. If the school board denies the application, the group attempting to establish the charter school can appeal the decision to the Pennsylvania Charter Appeals Board.
The Charter Appeals Board is a six member board that includes the Secretary of Education. Currently, there are only five members on the board, with two sitting members who should have termed out two years ago. To date, none of Governor Wolf’s appointments to that board have been confirmed by Republicans in the state senate. Republicans would like to stack the Charter Appeals Board with pro-charter members that will rubber stamp applications, regardless of the will of local taxpayers.
So, are charters a good investment? In 2015, the Pennsylvania School Board Association sent out a Right to Know request to all 173 charter schools in Pennsylvania. The data collected showed that charter schools were overpaid for special education services to the tune of $101.7 million, charters pay significantly more in administrative costs than local districts, 5 cyber charters spent $3.3 million on advertising costs alone, and tuition payments to schools have outpaced enrollments over the past decade.
School districts used to get reimbursed for charter school payments from the state, but that ended when Governor Corbett cut those payments from the state budget, putting even more stress on local district budgets. More recently, state Republicans have blocked legislation that would return money to local districts that had been overpaid to charters.
The Republican agenda for our public schools is clear. Betsy Devos and her Pennsylvania PAC, Students First, have been working hard to elect Republicans who will send our tax dollars to private, unaccountable, for-profit schools. Charter schools are a bad idea for North Penn and we intend to protect the investment that our community has made in our public schools.