Senate Bill 1085, a really bad bill that would overhaul current charter school law, came out of committee on 10/16/13 and will likely move in the Senate floor as early as the week of 10/21. This bill contains many serious problems. If you have a chance, please shoot an email to your state senator to share these concerns before the bill comes to the Senate floor. Feel free to copy and paste the fixes at the bottom of the post in your email to your senator.
SB 1085 removes the pension double-dip by eliminating the state’s share of pension payments. This would return $65 million to the PA general fund so that PA politicians can spend it as they please. Home and business owners would continue to be responsible for making the pension payments of charter and cyber charter school teachers and would not receive any financial relief from this tax burden as local school districts would continue to pay for burdensome pension payments included in charter and cyber charter school tuition bills.
SB 1085 would authorize an institution of higher learning to be a charter school authorizer instead of local school districts. This would strip control from taxpayers and locally-elected school boards and allow charter schools to be authorized by an outside entity, set up shop in our communities, and send us the bill.
SB 1085 would allow multiple charter organizations to consolidate without the approval of local school boards. The oversight of this combined entity would be the responsibility of PDE. Local school districts would lose control over approving the operation of a new, consolidated charter school in their district.
SB 1085 removes any caps on charter school enrollment. This will allow for the unfettered expansion of charter schools in PA.
SB 1085 appears to require school districts to send tuition payments to charter schools that operate pre-K and full-day kindergarten programs, even if the school district does not offer these services. School districts could find that they are suddenly responsible for tuition payments for piles of students who are not even enrolled in the district. The language is unclear; lawmakers need to clarify this.
SB 1085 contains a direct-pay provision and puts the burden on school districts to prove errors in enrollment if there is a question about student enrollment. This would likely result in huge amounts of wasteful spending as PDE would pay charter schools tuition payments for students who are not enrolled in these schools.
SB 1085 removes the language that charter schools were to serve as models of innovation for other public schools. (Smucker SB 1085)
SB 1085 forms a funding advisory commission, but does not have language stating that the commission will explore the actual cost of educating a child in a charter school.
SB 1085 reduces cyber charter school payments that school districts make by about 5%. This is a completely arbitrary way to determine funding. The cost of brick-and-mortar charter school tuition remains the same.
Our senators should oppose SB 1085 unless it is fixed by doing the following:
- Remove the pension double-dip by eliminating school districts’ portion of teachers’ pension payments in order to make tuition payments less burdensome for home and business owners who pay the tuition bills through their property taxes.
- Allow local school districts to retain control of authorizing charter schools in their communities. Local taxpayers pay the tuition bills, local taxpayers and their elected school boards should decide whether or not they want a charter school in their community. There should be no university authorizer and if charter schools consolidate, local school districts should have the choice to keep them or not.
- Keep in place caps on enrollment in charter schools that have been negotiated by school districts and allow school districts to negotiate enrollment caps with charter schools.
- Require school districts to pay charter school tuition bills for students enrolled in pre-K and full-day kindergarten charter school programs ONLY if the school district offers these programs.
- Place the burden of verifying student enrollment conflicts on the charter school, NOT on the school district.
- Form a funding commission that will determine the actual cost of educating a child in a charter or cyber charter school. The 5% decrease in tuition costs for cyber schools is welcome, but it is irrational. Taxpayers should pay what it costs to educate a child, not an arbitrary amount.
- Include language that charter schools are to serve as models of innovation for other public schools. The goal of this bill should NOT be to create a second and parallel, costly, taxpayer-funded system of public education in Pennsylvania. This is unsustainable and the legislature should not mandate that taxpayers bear the burden of these duplicative costs.