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Pa. auditor general suggests changes to charter school law

Photo: Pennsylvania Charter School Accountability and Transparency: Time for a Tune-Up

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.
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Comments (11)

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on May 12, 2014 8:04 pm
It's about time! Now let's start focusing on these corner-store McDonald-Land Charter Schools that have been milking public tax dollars for years!
Submitted by anon (not verified) on May 12, 2014 9:16 pm
get ready for the song and dance from gleason and company about how unfair this would be.
Submitted by Wry (not verified) on May 13, 2014 12:07 pm
Yup. You have that right.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 12, 2014 10:48 pm
Essentially, let's make the charter schools as layered and ineffecient as philadelphia school district schools. Not very smart. Just change what is not working at both charter and district schools. And let's define not working as anything that takes away from increasing studentent achievement, decreasing incidents of violence and engaging parents/community. If any school (cahrter or district) is not compliant with basic laws then penalize or close them. This is a managment issue, not change of law issues. Get your hands dirty and manage a school like it is supposed to be managed. Get off the sideline and get into the game.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 13, 2014 10:06 am
What Auditor General DePasquale found was that the Charter School Law is seriously flawed in many ways and allows for a myriad of improprieties and illegalities. They are legal issues of accountability, public oversight, and transparency. They are much more than management issues -- they are legal issues which go to the rights of students, parents, and the local community in what are supposed to be our public schools. They certainly are change of law issues.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 13, 2014 12:18 pm
Any auditor will always find areas of concern no matter what line of business. The mistake that folks make is to think that somehow this compensates for good management. It never does. So.... as we Audit away... spending taxpayer money... to only come to agreements on what should be or what we want things to be (sitting on the side line).... We are wasting time/money..when we should be managing schools better (get in the game)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 13, 2014 8:54 am
Could this be just the beginning of a level playing field. I'll believe it when I see it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 13, 2014 9:01 am
Wow! I am shocked. What took him so long to come up with something that everyone else knows.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 13, 2014 9:09 am
Wow! I am shocked. What took him so long to come up with something that everyone else knows.
Submitted by Eileen M. DiFranco (not verified) on May 13, 2014 9:15 am
I would also like to learn the salaries of the charter school principals and their operators. It seems to me that a board of directors who serve at will and for free could substitute for the ubiquitous charter school CEO's.
Submitted by Lucas (not verified) on July 7, 2014 4:38 am
Could this be just the beginning of a level playing field. hotel lyon

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