Charter school supporters were quick to cry foul after Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner called for a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools. Wagner announced his call following the release of a report that found fault with the way charter schools are funded in the Commonwealth.
Wagner’s report cited “perceived major funding inequities” as the primary reason for imposing a moratorium. Currently, funding is tied to the school district the student leaves to enroll at a charter school. The charter law provides approximately 70 percent of student funding follows the student to the charter school. Each of Pennsylvania’s 501 school different school districts employs a different funding formula.
Funding Formula ‘Broken’
Charter proponents were quick to point out the state’s charter law makes charters receive only approximately 70 percent of the normal student funding from the sending district. Despite this inequitable funding formula, they note, charters produce results as good as or better than district-run schools.
“It is disappointing that Auditor General Wagner has once again focused on only the dollars and cents of school funding and not on outcomes,” said Guy Ciarrocchi, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.
“Everyone knows that the funding formula in Pennsylvania is broken,” Ciarrocchi said. “Focusing on charter funding as the problem is like worrying about the roof on your dog house while your home is on fire.”
Pennsylvania’s school funding formula has long been under scrutiny as creating a wide disparity between districts, with those on the low end spending approximately $6,000 per student while high-wealth districts spend nearly $20,000 per student.
‘Politically Motivated Attack’
Mike Maslayak, president of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Cyber Education questions Wagner’s choice to go after charters, which represent less than 5 percent of all students in the state.
“This is a politically motivated attack on the little guy,” said Maslayak. “The education establishment sees charters as a threat, and this is just the latest attempt to squeeze us out by cutting our funding.”
The report also drew bipartisan ire from the chairmen of the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee.
“I do not support Wagner’s call for a moratorium on new charters and cyber-charters. I recognize that some in the public education establishment believe the charter school funding formula is flawed, but we should not punish kids, families, and communities from starting new charter schools over these grievances,” said State Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin).
“The Auditor General’s report is incomplete, and if implemented it will prove devastating to the prospects for many children to receive a quality education in the Commonwealth,” said State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia). “The basis of his call for a moratorium, which is a funding discrepancy, is erroneous and flies in the face of the facts.”
Matt Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, said the auditor’s report is misguided.
“Wagner is aiming his fire at the wrong public schools,” said Brouillette. “It is the district public schools that are bilking the taxpayers and denying children educational opportunities.”
Brouillette noted it would be up to the next governor to act on Wagner’s recommendation. Governor-elect Tom Corbett (R) campaigned on his support for education reforms, including more charter schools.
Andrew LeFevre ([email protected]) is president and CEO of the Arizona Choice in Education Foundation.