Pennsylvania Governor Plays Hooky with Charter School Funding

Published February 3, 2016

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has unilaterally redirected $8 million of taxpayer money designated for the funding of charter schools to traditional government schools.

Wolf made the move as part of a months-long budget standoff with lawmakers seeking tax relief for the state’s residents. Wolf announced the release of billions of dollars in funding to government schools and county governments as part of a compromise with legislators.

The compromise between Wolf’s plan for tax hikes and increased spending and lawmakers’ budget plans, including tax reform and relief, did not include instructions for state education spending, effectively allowing Wolf to redirect the charter school funding.

Wolf Attack

James Paul, a senior policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, says Wolf seized on an opportunity to attack school choice.

“Undercutting charter schools has been a priority for Wolf since assuming office,” Paul said. “Although Wolf signed most of the general appropriation bill, he was not presented with an Education Code—legislation typically enacted in conjunction with an appropriations bill. Without the code, the governor had no specific instructions for doling out education dollars.

“Wolf took full advantage of this opportunity to distribute education funding in a highly political formula that disregards enrollment trends and student need,” Paul said. “It also shortchanges charter schools by $8 million and funnels disproportionate funding to traditional public schools in Philadelphia, Chester-Upland, and Wilkinsburg.”


‘Kowtowing to Union Interests’

Paul says Wolf’s actions help his political allies, but not Pennsylvanians.

“Given that Wolf received millions in campaign contributions from powerful teachers unions, and given that charter schools represent a direct threat to the unions’ monopoly control of the public school system, it’s not surprising that Wolf is kowtowing to union interests,” Paul said.

‘A Need for More School Choice’

Tim Eller, executive director of the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a nonprofit organization based in Pennsylvania that represents charter schools and charter school students, says Wolf is committed to restricting parents’ say in their children’s education.

“The Wolf administration is focused on nothing more than eliminating parental choice and shutting down Pennsylvania’s public brick-and-mortar charter school sector,” Eller said. “There is a need for more school choice in Pennsylvania, and with the appropriate resources and support, the state’s brick-and-mortar charter school sector is standing by to provide students with high-quality educational programs and services.”

Eller says school choice is popular with parents trying to escape poor schools resulting from the government’s near-monopoly on education.

“Voters generally support school choice and the ability of students to seek an alternate public school when their traditional public school fails to meet their needs or provide them with a high-quality education,” Eller said.

Tony Corvo ([email protected]) writes from Beavercreek, Ohio.