Charter schools are a big part of the York City School District's financial mess.
The school board, having started the budget process with a $19 million deficit, approved a spending plan this week that calls for a 17 percent tax hike in addition to drastic staffing and programming cuts.
A big part of that deficit was caused by the state's decision last year to cut off charter tuition reimbursement. In 2011-12, the district lost $7 million in reimbursements and stands to lose $8 million in the coming fiscal year.
OK -- so the state doesn't want to reimburse districts for part of its charter school costs, even though the tuitions cause a financial burden on districts and their taxpayers. The problem is it's not a wash when students move to a charter school and take their state subsidies with them -- the district's costs don't suddenly decrease by the same amount.
But why in the world won't the Legislature address the state charter school law, which requires districts to pay charter schools more than it costs to educate the students?
For the second time in two years, state Auditor General Jack Wagner this week released findings highlighting a flawed funding formula based on what it costs to educate each student in his or her home school district -- rather than what it actually costs charter schools to educate them.
Wagner estimates state charter schools spent an average of $13,400 per student, while cyber schools spent about $10,000 per student. In each case, he said, that's about $3,000 more per student than the national average, meaning Pennsylvania school districts are providing more funding than is apparently necessary.
Taxpayers could save $315 million a year by limiting school-district payments for charters and cyber charters to the national averages, Wagner said.
The auditor general said action could be taken in the upcoming budget, noting there are already bills floating around that address the funding formula.
"Pennsylvania taxpayers are the losers under the current funding formula," Wagner said. "This is a common sense issue. This is not anything radical."
Unfortunately, Wagner made the same call in 2010 and nothing ever came of it.
The only thing that changed since then is the state has made charter schools even more burdensome for districts by eliminating tuition reimbursement -- and cut basic education funding by about $1 billion.
If the Legislature wants districts to live within their means and become more efficient, it should help by changing this wasteful formula.