Legislation that would overhaul some of the longstanding and much-criticized aspects of the charter school law is awaiting a state House vote.
State Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover, said this is the first time he can remember such legislation making it out of committee, considering charter school reform is always under intense scrutiny.
For school districts, the proposed changes could mean up to a couple of hundred thousand dollars extra in funding that would otherwise have been headed to charters.
Grove thinks the bill has a good shot at passing when it goes up for a
vote, which could be as soon as Wednesday.
"This is one where no one is happy," he said of finding the right balance.
The bill only made it out of the education committee by a 13-12 margin, with Grove and Rep. Will Tallman voting in favor of it from York County.
Among the changes, charter schools would no longer get a double reimbursement for pension costs; they had gotten a state partial reimbursement as well as reimbursement costs included in their payment from school districts. Charter schools are publicly funded but independently operated.
The proposal also would end cyber school schools' getting food service reimbursement, as Grove pointed out that cyber schools don't offer food service.
And charter schools would be directly paid by the state, rather than waiting for the district to pay them tuition. New Hope Academy, for instance, had to ask the state to get it its tuition money after York City School District decided to stop paying it a year ago.
Grove said brick-and-mortar charters aren't opposing the bill in part because it includes the direct payment, while cyber charters oppose it.
Local reaction: Spring Grove Area School District business manager George Ionnaidis said more needs done to overhaul the charter school funding formula, although he said the district is pleased there is at least some progress.
"It's a start. It's certainly not perfect," Ionnaidis said.
Spring Grove would stand to save $75,700 in charter school payment next school year, according to figures supplied by Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. The association supports the bill. The savings would come from districts' not having to reimburse charters for certain items they do now.
Southern York School District business manager Wayne McCullough said the pension double-dip needed to be addressed.
"We appreciate recognizing that the double-dip of pension costs for charter and cyber charter schools is unfair to school districts and taxpayers, and the willingness to do something about it," McCullough said.
Southern would save about $58,600 in charter payments. On the other end, York City would save $374,600.
Grove said the bill also includes aspects of previous versions of the bill from past years. Cyber charter schools would face increased enforcement of attendance, and charters overall would need to implement new teacher evaluations and academic quality measures.
A commission would be created to examine "permanent charter funding improvements" as well, according to Grove.
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Charter school bill savings
A charter school reform bill awaiting a vote in the House would lead to these savings by school district, according to state Rep. Seth Grove. Each district would save money by not having to reimburse charter schools for areas such as pension and food service costs.
The following is a list of projected savings for the 2013-14 school year:
---Hanover Public: $99,777
---Red Lion: $167,586
---South Eastern: $112,308
---South Western: $105,646
---Spring Grove: $75,708
---West Shore: $248,271
---West York: $92,881
---York City: $374,601
---York Suburban: $68,183