Canton considers cyber charter school reform
CANTON - Some cyber charter school funding reform bills were discussed at the recent Canton Area School Board meeting.
A copy of a legislative report from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) that board members reviewed at the meeting lists two reform bills.
"These are very important issues," district superintendent Matt Gordon told the board, noting that the proposals would be welcomed. He acknowledged the hefty cost to the district resulting from cyber charter schools.
According to the PSBA legislative report, Rep. Mike Fleck has issued a co-sponsorship memo for a bill that would, among other things, require "cyber charter schools to complete an annual audit to determine the actual costs of operating the cyber charter school" and would require "reconciliation at the end of the school year to return any overpayments to school districts."
The bill would also revise the current funding formula for cyber charter schools. Fleck couldn't be reached for comment regarding further information on the proposed revision.
In addition, the PSBA report notes that Rep. Garth Everett has issued a co-sponsorship memo for a bill that calls for cyber charter school funding reform as well as increased accountability. Among other things, it calls for an annual audit and reconciliation "to ensure that school districts are not overpaying for cyber charter school services."
"This proposal also includes transparency and accountability requirements for charter and cyber charter schools, such as ensuring that charter school trustees and administrators comply with the Ethics Act and requiring that charter and cyber charter schools abide by the same fund balance caps that apply to school districts."
At the meeting, Gordon commented that a proposal would be aimed at "alleviating cyber charter schools' ability to advertise" on television and billboards, and their ability "to have exorbitant fund balances."
He encouraged the board members to keep an eye on the proposals and contact their legislators about them.
The bills also call for eliminating the "pension double dip."
Cindy Eckerd, with PSBA, explained the issue.
"Here is what is happening: Currently, charter and cyber charter schools get paid twice for retirement -- once by school districts that must factor their own retirement costs into the tuition payments they make to charter and cyber charter schools, and once more by the state, which reimburses charter and cyber charter schools for at least 50 percent of their retirement costs," she continued. "Fortunately, this problem can easily be corrected by removing a school district's employer contribution to PSERS from the charter school funding formula. By simply eliminating this duplicative payment, the state could save nearly $500 million over the next several years."
According to the district business manager Mark Jannone, the cyber charter school costs to the district last year were $263,610, and this year to date, they are $182,818.
"This equates to costing Canton Area School District taxpayers about 2 mills of real estate taxes every year, for these students to attend a school that is outside our taxpayers' district," he said, when asked for comment.
He explained how the costs arise.
"If a student is a resident of our school district and they enroll in a PDE-approved Cyber School, the school district of residence is responsible for paying their tuition regardless of where the Cyber School is physically located," he said, noting "the current cost of about $9,000 per year for a regular Ed Student and about $18,000 per year for a Special Ed student."
"Our board does not recognize Cyber Schools as legitimate education institutions, so we refuse to pay the bill," he said.
"After the first three or four months of non-payment, Cyber regulations allow them to petition the state for payment by withholding the costs from our education subsidy, which the state does," he continued. "The per pupil cost is calculated by a formula written in the regulations pertaining to Cyber Schools. The formula is severely flawed. If the state used the same per pupil formula to provide our education subsidy, we would get about $10,000,000 per year from the State, compared to the $6,635,000 that we are getting for 12-13."
The PSBA provided two sample resolutions on charter and cyber charter school funding reform issues, which board members could review.
Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.