AG, lawmakers propose similar updates to PA charter school rules

Part 118 of 117 in the series Educating America

By Maura Pennington | Watchdog.org

PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has released a special report on charter schools that calls for improved oversight, transparency, accountability and a streamlined payment system.

NEW REPORT: Pennsylvania AG recommends improvements to charter sector.

Several of the recommendations are already being considered in Harrisburg.

With 84,000 Pennsylvania children in charter schools and a law regulating them that’s nearly 20 years old, the Office of the Auditor General called his report “Time for a Tune-Up.”

“Charter schools are here to stay,” it says. “Many outstanding charter schools in the state are doing amazing things for children and offering new ways to educate. Clearly, thousands of parents welcome having a choice when it comes to public schools.”

Lawmakers are reaching that conclusion, as well.

In addition to recommendations to create a statewide charter school oversight board, DePasquale called for two specific measures to address charter payments now under discussion in the General Assembly.

The report notes the “acrimonious” relationship between school districts and charter schools over the issue of money; home districts are responsible for per-pupil costs when families choose to send their children to charter schools.

As an approach toward special education funding, DePasquale suggests a tiered system.

“Under this concept, rather than a flat rate, multiple levels of special education funding will be provided, depending on the costs associated with the services the child needs … this system will be helpful in addressing the financial strain and hostility occurring under the current system,” the report stated.

Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, propose three tiers of multipliers to calculate the cost of services for students with varied needs.

In Philadelphia, $22,000 follows a special education student from the district to a charter school. Under the proposed legislation, a student with mild disabilities would get $12,750.

DePasquale’s recommends a shift to a state reimbursement program for cyber charter schools — authorized at the state level but paid by the school district of the enrolled student, who could be from anywhere in Pennsylvania.

“With this change, school districts win because it frees up money that can be used for other educational services. At the same time, cyber charter schools will reduce their administrative costs because instead of dealing with various payments from potentially hundreds of school districts, they would accept payment from one entity,” the report said.

Legislators are considering putting the state Department of Education in charge of cyber charter reimbursements.

Contact Maura Pennington at mpennington@watchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.

Category: Education, News, Pennsylvania, auditor general, charter schools, cyber charter schools, DePasquale, Reimbursement, Special Education

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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