Pennsylvania’s charter school law dates back to 1997 which means we now have a quarter century of evidence to consider how well charter schools educate students. At a macro level, brick and mortar charter schools suffer from many of the same structural challenges as district-run schools. While charter schools have long been an important educational option for Black, Hispanic, and low-income students, their promise is unfulfilled because of funding and other structural barriers. As a result, charter schools have been unable to deliver, especially for Black and Hispanic students. Of the approximately 34,000 Black and Hispanic students who took the PSSAs in 2019, over 22,000 failed in English and 29,000 failed in math.
To be sure, Black and Hispanic students are also failing in traditional public schools and more needs to be done to ensure student success in both charter and district-run schools. However, it is a false narrative to suggest that charter schools are a refuge from failing public schools when over half of children of color and low-income charter school students are failing in English and more than three out of four are failing in math.
Pennsylvania Cyber Charters are Stockpiling Funds that Should be Spent on Students or Returned to Taxpayers
The PA Charter Performance Center analyzed the newly released financial reports for the 2020-21 school year to quantify changes in unrestricted surpluses for Pennsylvania’s 14 statewide cyber charter schools and assessed the impact on students and taxpayers.
The Negative Fiscal Impact of Cyber Charter School Expansion in Pennsylvania Due to COVID-19
Pennsylvania has the highest cyber charter school enrollment in the country with student enrollment soaring in 2020-21 due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. School districts paid over $1 billion in tuition for students enrolled in Pennsylvania’s 14 cyber charter schools in 2020-21, a $335 million increase over the prior school year. Districts now cite charter school tuition as their top budget pressure.
Recommendations for meaning charter school reform
Meaningful charter school reform has been a legislative priority of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) and its members in each of the last several legislative sessions. To provide the General Assembly with a set of policy recommendations for charter reform, PSBA convened a task force of its members and charter school experts to study the issue and formulate a set of specific recommendations for charter school reform.
After a series of meetings and discussions, the task force developed a set of recommendations which would provide school districts and taxpayers with savings and greater awareness of how charter schools are utilizing public resources, as well as providing for greater accountability of charter schools.
A Closer Look: It’s time to reform special education payments for charter schools
Charter schools are still paid using a flawed formula that does not reflect what they are spending to educate their students with disabilities, resulting in millions of dollars in overpayments.
A Closer Look: Why it’s time to change the cyber charter funding system
Pennsylvania’s current method of funding cyber charter schools utilizes a flawed and outdated formula that results in inconsistencies and overpayments.
A Closer Look: Do charter schools really receive 25% less funding per student than school districts?
In 2018-19, Pennsylvania school districts in total spent over $2 billion in mandated payments to charter schools.
United States Government Accountability Office: Report to Congressional Requesters
K-12 Education: Department of Education Should Help States Address Student Testing Issues and Financial Risks Associated with Virtual Schools, Particularly Virtual Charter Schools
Virtual charter schools—public charter schools that operate entirely or mostly online—largely depend on self-paced, asynchronous (accessed at any time) instruction and often rely on parents to act as instructors, according to GAO’s review of a nationally representative sample of virtual charter school websites and interviews with school officials. Officials told GAO that families may choose these schools partly for these reasons, but students can struggle with the level of independence and parents can find the time commitment overwhelming. Virtual charter schools had significantly lower proficiency rates on states tests compared to other school types.
Click here to download the full report.
COVID Impact Part III: Districts Focus on Student Needs
This budget report recounts stories and insights gathered from superintendents, school business officials, and others involved in school business operations throughout the Commonwealth. The report illustrates how school districts across the Commonwealth find themselves navigating a new normal – working through the lasting effects of the pandemic while addressing student needs, battling increases in mandated costs, massive statewide educational labor shortages, significant supply chain issues, and stringent requirements associated with ESSER funding.
Click here to download the full report.