School boards in 466 out of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts have passed board resolutions calling for common-sense reforms to the state’s 26-year-old charter school law, such as those included in House Bill 1422.
That’s several thousand locally elected, volunteer school directors – Republicans and Democrats – responsible for levying taxes on their neighbors in order to fund public education.
In July, the state House of Representatives, in a bipartisan vote which saw 20 GOP members join with Democrats, agreed with those school directors and voted for HB 1422, which makes comprehensive and long overdue reforms to the way cyber charter schools are funded and governed.
Most importantly, HB 1422 establishes a statewide tuition rate of $8,000 per non-special education student and a tiered tuition rate for special education students that more accurately reflects the lower cost of providing a virtual education and that provides resources based on a student’s special education needs.
The cyber charter community has come out strong against HB 1422 alleging that the reduction in tuition rates will close schools and eliminate school choice. However, that’s simply not true and based on a desperate desire to hang on to the status quo in which cyber charter schools are benefiting by hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in profit.
Think that’s an exaggeration? In the annual audit for the 2021-22 school year, the state’s largest cyber charter school reported total revenues of $397.5 million, while only incurring $275 million in expenses, for a profit of $122.5 million. Statewide, the reforms included in HB 1422 could save school districts – and taxpayers – more than $400 million.
That’s serious money to the public school districts that pay those bills and the taxpayers who have taken the brunt of the local property tax increases required to pay them.
Like any large, profitable business, the cyber charter community is looking to protect its profits.
Since its introduction, HB 1422 has been the subject of numerous attacks that paint the bill in a false light. But what the attacks fail to mention is that the bill contains a number of provisions that will help cyber charters make and save money. Under the bill:
*Cyber charters will be able to sell their courses and programs to other schools.
*School districts will be required to transport special education students who choose to attend a cyber charter school.
*Other public schools will be required to provide space for cyber charter school students to take state tests.
*Intermediate units will be required to provide services and support to cyber charter school students who need them.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is not a school choice issue. This is simply about the most efficient and effective way to use limited resources to provide public education. When you sit on a school board like we do and you see how much money is going to cyber charter schools, you start to take issue with those ubiquitous (and expensive) ads that say cyber charter schools are “free” when you know that you’re going to have to raise taxes on your friends and neighbors or cut programs and services to kids in your school district to pay those costs.
We hope you’ll join us in supporting HB 1422 and calling on the state Senate to act on the bill and get it to Governor Shapiro’s desk.
Lawrence Feinberg is the director of the Keystone Center for Charter Change. A longtime advocate for public education at the county, state and federal levels, he is serving his 24th year as a member of the Haverford School Board in Delaware County.
Robert Gleason was elected chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party in 2006 and served in that capacity until 2017. He is currently the president of the Westmont Hilltop School Board in Cambria County. He previously served in Governor Thornburgh’s cabinet as secretary of the commonwealth, on the Pennsylvania Transportation Commission under Governor Ridge and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission under Governor Casey. Gleason also served as a member of the Catholic Advisory Committee of the Republican National Committee.