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Taxpayers deserve charter reform

It’s hard to turn on the TV or radio these days and not see some sort of advertisement for a cyber charter school.

The ads are all quick to point out that they are public schools and parents can have their child attend at no cost to them. While this is absolutely true, what the ads don’t say is that the cost is covered by taxpayers, who are funding a second public education system.

Charter school funding comes mostly in the form of tuition payments from local school districts for each one of their students who chooses to attend the charter school.

School districts will spend in excess of $2.5 billion this school year on charter school tuition. Where does the money come from to pay for these tuition bills? You and me — the local taxpayer.

As a member of the Penn Cambria School Board, I can attest to the amount of consideration that goes into a school board’s decision on local taxes.

Serving on the board, I’ve learned one key fact — that school districts have very little control over spending due to mandated costs like charter school tuition payments.

When a student from our school district chooses to enroll in a charter school, as is their right, the school district is required by law to send a tuition payment to the charter school for that student.

The concept makes sense but because of the flaws in the way those tuition payments are calculated, the result is pressure on school district budgets and increased taxes on local communities.

But don’t school districts save money when a student leaves for a charter school? No.

First, charter schools also enroll students who had previously been enrolled in private schools or were home-schooled. This represents entirely new costs for our school district since these students were not previously enrolled in the district.

Second is increased transportation costs. Our district is required by law to transport charter school students, including students whose charter school is located up to 10 miles outside of the district, and on days when the district schools are not in session.

Finally, there are stranded costs that stay with the school district even after a student enrolls in a charter school. Here is an example to consider: In an elementary school, there are currently 50 children enrolled in first grade at the start of this school year.

Those students are divided into two classrooms of

25 students each. If five of those students leave to enroll in a charter school, those students are taking with them as much as $22,000 each (depending on the school district’s tuition rate and assuming none of them are special education students).

How would the district save money? It can’t. It couldn’t combine the two classes, reduce teaching staff, or reduce maintenance costs or utility bills.

Transportation routes to the school would remain unchanged, so the number of drivers, buses and fuel costs remain the same. And the district would have to maintain enough books and educational supplies for those students in case they decide to return to the district school.

The school must do all of the same things it was doing before, but with $110,000 less. Now imagine that scenario in each grade and in every school building in the district and in every district around the state.

How do school districts still provide all of the same educational programs and services as it did before, but with less money? They are forced to raise taxes on their communities.

So, the next time you see or hear that your local school district is raising taxes, chances are that the district’s charter school costs are a main reason why.

George Pyo is president of the Penn Cambria School District Board of Education.

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