Last updated: May 13. 2014 11:27PM - 3007 Views
By - mguydish@civitasmedia.com

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Luzerne County school districts paid $3.8 million to charter schools in special-education tuition in 2012-13, and a group of education associations pushing for reform contend that was likely double what the charters spent.

“We are here to address the inaccuracies and hyperbole perpetuated by the charter school community on the impact of legislation” that would alter the formula used to determine how much charters get for special-education students, Jay Himes said at the start of a web conference Tuesday.

Himes, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, joined officers from three other statewide associations in support of House Bill 2138 and Senate Bill 1316 that would revise that formula.

They did provide data on individual charter schools, but noted some larger charter companies have been complaining those bills would cost so much money they may have to close their schools. The group said data show that isn’t true.

Charters are a type of public school, free from many state regulations. When students enroll in a charter, the district where that student lives pays a state-calculated tuition to the charter for that student. The tuition differs for regular education and special education.

PASBO Director of Advocacy Hannah Barrick said data reported by districts and charters show that, statewide, charters received $350,562,878 from districts for special education, but spent only $156,003,034.

“And charter schools are not obligated to spend special education money on special education purposes,” Barrick said. “That $200 million extra can be spent anywhere in their budgets.”

Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools Executive Director Joe Bard also pointed out that, thanks to years of flat-lined state budgets that have left state special education funding disconnected from actual district costs, those costs are borne largely by districts.

“It’s important to note the majority of the funding that goes to charter schools from school districts comes from local tax revenue,” Bard said.

On average, in 2012-13 districts paid $19,003 to charter schools per special education student, yet the charter schools spent $10,137 per student, Barrick said.

Because payments to charters are not connected to costs, charters “have the incentive to over-identify” students as needing special education, Himes said. They could decide a student needs relatively inexpensive services that are more than covered by the flat rate they receive.

The bills awaiting action in Harrisburg spring from a commission formed last year that heard hours of testimony before proposing a three-tier payment system for special education. The more severe a student’s needs, the higher the payments.

On average, charter schools would receive about $4,000 less for the lowest category — $13,991 instead of the current $19,003 average, but more for the other two categories, $34,932 and $69,124. This would reduce the incentive to over-identify lower level conditions, Himes and the others said, while still providing a fair share of the totals spent on special education.

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