Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale urged the creation of an independent oversight board for the state's charter schools on Monday, saying it would improve accountability and transparency.
In a report suggesting changes to charter school laws, DePasquale also said that the formulas through which charters get money from districts for regular education and special education students are "seriously flawed." He recommended that the state reinstate in its budget the charter reimbursement item for districts.
DePasquale issued the report after conducting five public meetings, as well as visiting schools and auditing districts and charter schools across the state.
DePasquale found unequal funding to be a major statewide issue. Disparities in per-pupil funding across districts were as large as $21,000 among districts and $10,000 among charters, according to the report. For charters, special education funding -- which, like regular education funding, is based on the costs in the district that authorized it -- could vary as much as $42,000 per pupil. The report states:
Clearly something is wrong in how schools in Pennsylvania are funded because these disparities certainly cannot all be attributed to cost-of-living adjustments across the state. For school districts, the increasing costs of tuition, as more students opt to attend charter schools, combined with the loss in 2011 of the charter school reimbursement paid by the state are part of the funding problem.
In 2011, Gov. Corbett eliminated the charter reimbursement line item.
Philadelphia, which has half of the more than 160 brick-and-mortar charters in the state, lost more than $100 million due in annual funding when that line item was axed.
The rest of the auditor general's recommendations are below. The whole report can be read here.
- Eliminate cyber charter school payments from school districts and replace with direct funding from the state.
- Overhaul the charter school annual report template and require charter schools to verbally present their report to the authorizing school district in a public meeting.
- Impose the same limits on charter school fund balances as imposed on school districts, but provide for a waiver process for certain exemptions such as construction or renovation projects.
- Change regulations to allow the Department of Education’s special education division to serve as the intermediary between charter schools and school districts when a student classification is in dispute.
- Create a tiered funding mechanism for special education.
- Mandate implementation of a standard, statewide charter school student admissions form and lottery admission system and prohibit schools from requiring submission beyond standard identification details and residency requirements.
- Require charter schools to have the same teacher and principal performance evaluations as school districts and establish guidelines on how charters should calculate the 75 percent-of-teachers-certified requirement.
- Allow noncompliance with the Right-to-Know Law to be a factor in charter school renewal decisions.
- Create a website that would clearly identify expenditures for charter schools and traditional public schools that would include information on vendor contracts, superintendent buyouts, leases and transportation costs.
- Require charter schools to request and receive a timely public hearing and school district vote on approval from the authorizing school district for any amendment or new contract for educational services.