Bethel Park wants reform for cyber and charter school funding

Published Apr 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm (Updated Apr 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm)

Members of the Bethel Park School Board are urging residents to contact their state legislators about the way charter and cyber charter schools are funded.

Board members recently voted to approve a resolution calling for the reform of the commonwealth’s funding of charter school education.

“The formula (by which the state decides how much of the district funding goes to those other institutions) is totally skewed,” Bethel Park Superintendent Nancy Rose said. “It’s not the fault of the district and it puts a burden on the taxpayers. We want the formula to ensure the funds are equitably distributed.”

Currently, public schools throughout the state pay for each of their students who attends a charter or a cyber charter school and have, in the past, received some reimbursement from the state. However, Gov. Tom Ridge eliminated cyber school reimbursements from the state budget in the 2011-2012 school year.

According to the Pennsylvania State Education Association website, since the 2010-2011 school year, the Bethel Park School District has lost $132,642 in state charter school reimbursements.

School districts across the state are also being hurt financially by the way the state funds charter and cyber charter schools, and are passing resolutions similar to the one approved by the Bethel Park board.

Bethel Park School District officials said the district pays approximately $10,000 for each of its students who is enrolled in charter school education, and that the amount is even more for students with special needs.

Rose said the district currently has 80 students attending charter or cyber charter schools and that the district is spending approximately $800,000 for those schools.

Board member Jim Means said it is important to remember that because those 80 students are not from just one grade level, they are all ages and grade levels, the district can’t just eliminate a class. “In essence we end up paying double for that student,” he said.

“Cyber schools (which have no physical school buildings to maintain) are getting more money than needed,” said Michael Brungo, district solicitor.

“Finances are just some of the frustration,” Rose added.

The superintendent explained that Pennsylvania students are expected to complete school in 13 years, kindergarten through graduation, and it is up to the student’s home district to make sure that happens. If a student fails a grade and then returns to a district school to repeat that grade, that extra year of education is held against the school district’s record.

In addition, the superintendent explained, the district is responsible for each of its students’ attendance and because the charter and cyber charter schools do not provide the district with records, it is hard for the district to account for a student’s attendance.

“Pretty much there are no rules,” she said.

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