York County districts among 100 across state supporting charter reform

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his 2020-21 budget address in the House of Representatives as Speaker Mike Turzai, left, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman look on, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Harrisburg, Pa. Photo by Joe Hermitt/PennLive/The Patriot-News via AP

Three York County school districts have thrown their support behind Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed overhaul of the state's charter school funding formula.

resolution, drafted by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, is calling for the General Assembly to "meaningfully revise" charter school law, which was enacted in 1997.

West York, York Suburban and Southern York County joined more than 100 other districts across the state in approving the resolution.

"Right now, charter school funding is not a level playing field," said West York Area school board member Lynn Kohler. "We’re sending way more money to cyber charter schools than they actually take to educate the student."

Though PSBA's resolution does not note specific reforms, it follows Wolf's controversial budget proposal last month, which cites revisions the governor says would save $280 million that could be reinvested in classrooms. 

On Thursday, Wolf's office championed the districts' support on social media. 

Wolf's reforms would include applying the special education funding formula to all charter schools — a change many districts and public school advocacy organizations have been vocal in supporting — and establishing a statewide cyber charter tuition rate.

Charter tuition payments have grown exponentially for Kohler's district — jumping from $49,000 to $342,349 to $400,000 — each year since 2015-16, West York business manager Sheri Schlemer reported.

That district spent $2.69 million for tuition in 2018-19 — the last full fiscal year. 

More:Gov. Wolf pitches $2.6 billion spending increase

Charter school advocates have railed against Wolf's proposal, saying the governor is trying to "rob" charter school students of funding.

Opponents rallied in the state Capitol last year when Wolf first announced his plans to support a mass upheaval of the existing charter law.

Republicans in the Legislature, too, have not flocked to the Democratic governor's proposal and have suggested that Wolf's projected savings were a myth. They would likely come back to districts in the form of new unfunded mandates, they have said. 

Charter schools have been under fire by opponents who say district-paid tuition helps support expenses such as advertising, while students pay nothing.

More:York County districts forgoing charter tuition but charters hit with fee

And when district expenditures increase, so does charter tuition — even if the district's number of charter students does not change, said Spring Grove Area Superintendent George Ioannidis.

Spring Grove officials have not signed the resolution yet, but Ioannidis said he is in support of the governor's plans.

"There’s no question something has to be done," he said, noting that more than 10 years ago, charter payments were between about $500,000 to $600,000 in his district. Now they are in excess of $1 million.

And back then, the state used to give districts a percent of that funding back, he said.

"We are now at full freight," Ioannidis continued. "We have to pay the entire amount with very little check and balance."

Though West York's Kohler does not think the charter situation for districts will change drastically, he said, it's still an opportunity to make a change for the better.

"Sometimes some change is better than no change," he said

Spring Grove School District's soon to be superintendent George Ioannidis greets students while taking part in the high school's third annual Diversity Festival, Thursday, March 13, 2019
John A. Pavoncello photo