Charter Reform?

Charter school reform legislation is still in the works and could greatly impact Warren County’s only charter school Tidioute Community Charter School.

The provisions contained in SB 1085, which was tabled on Jan. 27, might be off the table at the moment but will likely be brought back. “Typically, what happens in education is during the passage of the budget, many bills that they want to see passed, they will bundle in what we call an omnibus education bill,” said State Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-65).

Some of the most significant provisions in the bill include the establishment a funding advisory committee to review the formula currently in place by which public school districts subsidize charter educational entities, institutional authorization where charters are considered for approval by a universities instead of local school boards, high performing schools re-authorization period being extended from five years to 10 years as well as charter payments being issued directly by the state instead of local districts.

TCCS Chief Educational Officer Doug Allen said on Monday that he supported the concept of reviewing the funding formula. “One of the challenges is that people have a hard time distinguishing if cyber charters have the same costs as brick and mortar charters… To try to change the formula so that every charter is the same is difficult. Our formula is basically simple because no one knows how to identify those costs.”

The commission would be comprised of 15 individuals from across the state and be required to make recommendation by Aug. 31.

Charter schools are reimbursed a flat rate for general education as well as special education students.

Allen suggested that the commission might be a good idea in an attempt to analyze those costs.

Regarding institutional authorization, Allen said that the idea is a “fascinating concept.”

“I think, to me, the number of charters would probably be expanded by university involvement in authorization,” he said. “The problem I think that would appear after a while (is) those people are not elected officials (and) really don’t have taxpayer representation.”

One provision that could benefit TCCS is the extended renewal period.

“I agree with the 10-year renewal,” he said. “I agree with the concept of higher performing schools getting a 10-year opportunity.” He cited a corresponding House measure that contains a similar provision. With the charter for TCCS up for renewal next year, Allen said “there is no guarantee we will exist beyond next year.” He said the expanded renewal would assist in long-term planning.

The proposal for the state to take over charter school payments might not be a significant issue for TCCS, according to Allen.

Citing that the school currently has students from the Titusville, Forest Area, Corry and Warren County school districts, he said that Forest and Titusville already pay directly from the state. “Our payments from (those two) come from Harrisburg,” he said, and are deducted before the district receives its state education funding. While the Warren County School District pays by monthly bill, Allen said he is “not sure there is any difference” other than “sending our bills to Harrisburg.”

One change that Allen opposes is closing a “double-dip” in charter school pension funding.

Local school districts figure retirement payments into PSERS, the Pennsylvania School Employee Retirement System, into their monthly payments to the charters, but the charters also collect a 50 percent reimbursement from the state for their employees’ share.

“This isn’t going to save enough money to be significant,” he claimed. “I don’t know why someone would pick on retirement. Why would the state all of a sudden pay us less for retirement than a public school.”

Governor Tom Corbett’s budget proposal released last month would eliminate the 50 percent reimbursement paid to charters in an attempt to eliminate the “double dip.”