Charter school reform topic of debate at Pine-Richland board of supervisors meeting - PineCreek Journal

Charter school reform topic of debate at Pine-Richland board of supervisors meeting

Friday, February 14, 2020 | 11:00 AM

The Pine-Richland board of supervisors discussed the issue of charter school reform at its February meeting and is expected to take an official stance on the topic next month.

“This has been gaining a lot of attention (with the Pennsylvania School Board Association), and for very good reason,” school board member Carla Meyer said.

The Pennsylvania School Board Association has called on its members to adopt a resolution calling for charter school funding reform. School board President Peter Lyons asked Meyer to draft their own version instead of adopting the generic version produced by the PSBA in advance of the March 2 planning meeting.

Gov. Tom Wolf last year called for an overhaul to Pennsylvania’s charter school funding and recently reiterated the need to examine the way district payments to charter schools are calculated in his 2020-21 state budget plan.

Over the past several years, Meyer said funding to charter schools has continued to grow with fewer services available while data both nationally and locally shows that the graduation and academic success rates at these schools do not differ from and “definitely do not” outperform standard public schools.

Superintendent Brian Miller said that in 2013-14 there were 93 students from the Pine-Richland School District who attended either cyber or brick-and-mortar charter schools, with about 80% of them attending cyber schools. In 2018-19 that number dropped to 53.

The cost to the school district in 2013-14 to fund charter schools was $653,000, but with 40 fewer students in 2018-19 the district paid $1.2 million, Miller said.

“This is my seventh year at Pine-Richland and rarely do I engage in political or legislative input, but as an educator, and from the fiscal accountability expected of us with a number of mandates and accountability measures that impact public schools, it is not an even playing field in the funding formula for 53 students at $1.2 million,” he said. “That’s a significant, eye-opening statistic when we think about what that means.”

Board member Ben Campbell pointed out that when taxpayer money comes into the district it not only goes toward students but also infrastructure, which is a public asset. When money goes to charter schools, he said, what goes into infrastructure no longer goes toward a public resource, such as an athletic field that is shared by the community.

Campbell and Meyer poiinted out Pine-Richland is fortunate in the money paid to charter schools is not a debilitating drain on the budget as it is in some other districts.

However, Lyons said, getting the information out that learning outcomes are not as good as people may know is one important aspect of the conversation.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we offer a better product and that’s part of it,” he said. “To have our funds redirected, with all the effort I see, and the accountabilities that go on in this room and in these meetings, to have public tax dollars taken and moved out of this domain for outcomes that are not clear or not held to the same standards, I think that resonates. I think that would resonate in our community in particular so I think it’s good to move forward on that.”