Dover Area School District calls need for charter school law reform 'urgent'

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Dover School Board President Nathan Eifert holds printed copies of email comments supporting the new high school construction during the meeting, Tuesday, February 20, 2018. Submitted photo

Dover Area School District officials are calling on state legislators to reform Pennsylvania's charter school law to reduce expenses for school districts. 

The school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a resolution requesting the reform as part of the meeting's consent agenda. The resolution argues that the current law for charter school funding is unfair to school districts and calls the need for reform "urgent."

"School districts are struggling to keep up with growing charter costs and are forced to raise taxes and cut staffing, programs and services for their own students in order to pay millions of dollars to charter schools," the resolution said. 

School districts pay tuition costs to charter schools for each student enrolled in a charter within the district. Dover spokesperson Bradly Perkins said his district pays charter schools about $12,000 per regular education student and nearly $27,000 per special education student. 

The resolution said existing charter school law is unfair because districts pay charter schools based on the district's tuition rate instead of what the charter needs to educate the student.

The debate over charter school funding has increased over the past year as enrollment spiked for cyber charter schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

More:Charter enrollment in Pa. has spiked since COVID-19 outbreak

Cyber charter schools have been criticized by some public officials, including Eric Wolfgang, president of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

In an op-ed published Dec. 29 in The York Dispatch, Wolfgang wrote that the increased enrollment will have a negative financial impact on public school districts and should be a concern for taxpayers. 

"The current charter funding mechanism forces school districts to overpay cyber charter schools and overpay for charter special education costs by hundreds of millions of dollars each school year," Wolfgang said. 

Lenny McAllister, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said the law is actually beneficial to school districts. He said the money that districts pay charter schools doesn't come from the district but rather from the state. He said lawmakers can remove the "toxic competition" between districts and charter schools by redirecting the funding directly to charter schools, removing school districts as "the middleman."

"It's never been their money," McAllister said. 

Gov. Tom Wolf proposed charter school law reform in his 2021-22 budget address earlier this month. He estimated his proposal would save public school districts $229 million and "hold charter schools accountable."

More:Republican lawmakers call Wolf's draft budget 'tone deaf'

McAllister previously called Wolf's proposal "callously wrong." He argued that the existing charter school law is unfair to charter schools. The average charter school receives 75% of the cost to enroll each student, he said, when it should receive the full cost from districts.