Frustration lingers for some York County lawmakers and educators after a charter school bill that would have addressed their concerns about funding and accountability died in the House.
The bill, backed by Gov. Tom Corbett and passed by the Senate earlier this week, was up for discussion Wednesday, but the House didn't vote on it as the fall session concluded. It'll be January when the charter school reform can next be discussed after the new Legislature is sworn in.
"It's a missed opportunity to start changing some of the school funding formulas," said Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover.
Here's what was at stake:
* Allowing districts to put in specific academic benchmarks for new charters or those facing charter renewal to meet in order to get a charter. Charter schools do take state tests and face state standards, but school districts couldn't make specific demands on academic performance as a requisite to keep a charter.
* Limiting the surplus a charter school could keep.
* Evaluating special-education funding formulas for charters and school districts. School districts for years have complained that the boilerplate, one-size-fits-all special-education funding formula hasn't matched the reality in school budgets.
* Cyber school funding. Right now, districts pay different amounts of tuition to a cyber school. Districts have argued that makes no sense, since the student is primarily learning online.
* Creating commissions to examine charter school issues.
"We were going to fix several problems," said a frustrated Rep. Will Tallman, R-Reading Township. "We didn't get any of that."
Tallman said he was looking forward to the bill's fixing such issues as the perceived double-dipping charter schools were doing in pension payments. The tuition charters receive from school districts takes into account the district's pension contributions, but charter schools also receive state reimbursement for pension costs.
"I specifically wanted that double-dip fixed," Tallman said.
As did Southern York School District business manager Wayne McCullough, who wanted the funding issues addressed. The bill might have passed if it had called for direct solutions, rather than a commission to find solutions, McCullough said.
McCullough referenced a report by the state auditor general's office. According to the report, Pennsylvania spends about $3,000 more per student to educate charter school students than other states. Making a standardized tuition rate would save more taxpayers more than $300 million.
Grove said aspects of the bill have been bandied about for months, and he believes the latest iteration addressed most of the concerns of groups such as the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Corbett had wanted to let a state board have the authority to go around a local school board and create charter schools, but that language was removed.
Rep Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, said he supported the bill and thought some of the "onerous" portions had been removed.
"You don't ever get everything you want ... but it's enough," Miller said.
Is the bill dead? Not likely, considering Corbett badly wants charter school reform, officials said.
"(Republican) leadership is very clear. This will be brought up next session," Grove said.
Grove and Tallman said it could be dragged into budget talks, which would further complicate matters.
"It was a step in the right direction," Grove said. "You need to start somewhere."
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