State Auditor General Jack Wagner released a report based on three-year-old national figures that showed Pennsylvania spent the most on the publicly funded, privately run schools among the five states with the highest enrollments in those schools.
Wagner estimated taxpayers could save $315 million a year by limiting school-district payments for charters and cyber-charters to the national averages. The payments currently exceed those averages by about $3,000 per student at charters, which have physical buildings, and about $3,500 per student at the cyber schools, whose online programs carry less overhead, he said.
The present system "makes no common sense," Wagner said.
More than 100,000 students are enrolled in Pennsylvania's 154 charter schools and 13 cyber-charters.
The schools receive payments of tax money through a formula pegged to what it costs to educate each student in his or her home school district. Those payments have come under stricter scrutiny as a growing number of districts lay off teachers and eliminate programs because of state budget cuts.
State Rep. Mike Fleck said Wednesday that he has introduced his bill to tighten the formula for calculating the payments and to require year-end audits. The bill is backed by the state's largest teacher union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
"School districts are overpaying because the formula is based on what they spend on educating a student and not what it actually costs a charter or cyber charter school to do the same," said Fleck, R-Huntingdon.
The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools accused Wagner of rehashing arguments he has made before and said people on both sides of the funding debate are unhappy with the formula.
The coalition said it supports a bill pending in the House Education Committee that calls for the appointment of a statewide advisory panel to explore the issues and make recommendations to the Legislature and governor by March.