Lawmakers walk away from $500M
Published: November 23, 2012
Now that the state Legislature has finished its two-year session, lawmakers should reflect on their keen sense of priority. The majority rapidly passed a voter identification law designed to serve partisan political goals, but failed to reform the state and school pension systems — the single largest financial issue facing the state government and 500 local school districts.
In the process, lawmakers allowed to continue a particularly egregious aspect of the state’s pension mess: double-dipping by public charter schools.
The Corbett administration and its allies in the Legislature aggressively and successfully have pressed for the creation of public charter schools. They have not, however, been as zealous in pursuit of a fair funding system for charters.
Each local school district pays tuition to charter schools based on its own cost per student, regardless of the actual costs incurred by the charter school. According to Auditor General Jack Wagner, the range is from $6,700 per student in a Schuylkill County district to $16,900 in a Montgomery County district.
Included in each district’s cost-per-student calculation is the amount it must pay each year for its own teachers’ pensions.
The charter schools receive that local money and then receive a payment from the state to cover the charter schools’ contributions to their teachers’ pensions.
This double-dipping is not small change. According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, eliminating pension contributions from the local districts’ tuition formula for charter schools would save local taxpayers $500 million by the 2016-17 school year.
Yet lawmakers left that unwarranted money in charter schools’ pockets as they left Harrisburg until January. And that’s not even their only failure regarding charter school funding, which should be based on each charter’s actual costs rather than the school district’s cost per student.
The new Legislature should make charter school funding reform one of its top priorities.