Congress took the first step in passing the historic American Rescue Plan Act, now Pennsylvanians must decide how $15 billion will be allocated.
The federal plan drives billions into low-income households directly via tax benefits and direct payments and it delivers billions for state, school district, and local government services. It’s these funds where even greater progress can be made for children. Listen in on April 9 at noon as U.S. Senator Bob Casey, members of the Southeastern Congressional Delegation, and children’s issue experts discuss how these funds can be used to pack the biggest punch for children.
This federal package can do so much for kids yet surprisingly it also gifts $212 million to Pennsylvania cyber charter schools that do so little for their education and whose costs are not affected by the pandemic. And that’s on top of what they are being paid by Pennsylvania’s taxpayers. It’s a banner year for the cybers; they are running hotter than the stock market.
School districts are required to pay online cyber charters regardless of whether that child was ever enrolled in the school district. For instance, this year the Philadelphia School District is paying for cyber charter costs for thousands of children who, before the pandemic, were attending private or parochial schools.
To make matters worse, payments to cyber charters are based on the cost of education in the local school district, which means that cybers can be paid as low as $9,659 or as high as $22,322 depending on where a student lives. Of course that makes no sense since cyber charters have a fraction of the expenses that physical schools have. Meanwhile, districts and taxpayers are being fleeced by an industry that spends the minimum on instruction and the maximum on misleading advertising and recruitment.
The Senate Education Committee can take the first step to solving this problem by learning about Senator Lindsey Williams’s charter reform legislation, Senate Bill 27. This legislation would institute a $9,500/student flat-rate for cyber charters, easily meeting their costs while saving Pennsylvania taxpayers $229 million a year. This eye-popping amount is based on 2018-19 data. Cyber enrollment has skyrocketed during the pandemic causing districts to pay an astronomical $350 million more for these costs, according to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officers.
Remarkably, SB 27 is nowhere on the agenda for the three Senate Education Committee meetings this month. Not only does this ignore the expressed will of the over 390 locally elected school boards who passed resolutions calling for the General Assembly to fix the “flawed charter school funding systems,” but it also ignores the needs of their own constituents who ultimately foot the bill.
Three numbers tell the story of why the Senate Education Committee needs to act – $120 million, 6,300, and 8%.
1. $120 million increase in cyber charter payments in the legislative districts represented by just the 11 members of the Senate Education Committee. To put this into perspective, $120 million is more than the increase in Basic Education Funding that the legislature passed in 2018-19.
2. Cyber enrollment grew by more than 6,300 students in these same Senate districts this year.
3. Rising cyber charter tuition payments put pressure on property taxes. For some members of the Committee, property taxes in their districts would have to increase by over 8% to offset rising cyber charter payments.
Is it irony or absurdity that the Senate Education Committee is not taking a leadership role in cyber charter reform?
The time to act is now. Slow walking this bill in the year of the cyber surge is turning a deaf ear to taxpayers. Sadly, many of these same lawmakers are turning up the volume on their party-line talking point that the American Rescue Plan spends too much.
Tune in on April 9th for details on how the American Rescue Plan (despite the unfortunate earmarked cyber charter dollars) can be a game changer for kids. Register here.