HARRISBURG, Pa. – Public education advocates are asking legislators to fix a state law that currently gives charter schools more special-education funding than they spend on students with disabilities. The amounts the charter schools receive for special education are based on an average of what local public schools spend to provide services to students with disabilities.
Susan Spicka, the executive director of the group, Education Voters of Pennsylvania, cited a report from the Pennsylvania School Board Association that found charters are taking students with relatively mild disabilities, then using some of that funding on other programs.
“Charters should not be taking funding intended for students with disabilities and spending it on whatever else it is that they want to spend it on,” she said. “And we’re talking $100 million. That’s a lot of money.”
Spicka said there is an easy fix, and Education Voters has launched a campaign to raise public awareness and encourage legislators to act when they return to Harrisburg in January.
The current law, she said, gives charters a disincentive to enroll students with disabilities that require more costly interventions. Spicka pointed out that leaving public schools with the most expensive students to educate drives up the average cost.
“And then, charter schools receive a higher tuition rate every year, so they reap an increasing windfall off students with mild disabilities, while the students with the most significant disabilities end up concentrated in the traditional public schools,” she explained.
In 2014, a bipartisan commission created a special education funding formula that matches funding to expenses. But Spicka explained that right now, it only applies to traditional public schools.
“So, if this formula were applied to charter schools, it would match the funding from school districts to charter schools with the actual costs of educating students,” she added.
She also added that when public schools have more students that cost more than the average to educate, they often are forced to cut other programs to compensate.