In Pennsylvania, Row Erupts Over District Payments to Charter Schools


The Pennsylvania Treasury has decided to cut funding to charter schools that complained when school districts stopped sending tuition payments during the budget impasse while they determine the legality of the move.

The announcement was made the same day that the Pennsylvania School Boards Association filed a lawsuit arguing that requiring the payments is illegal.  State Senate Democrats are also making a push to Treasurer Tim Reese asking for a halt in the funding of charter schools through the use of money from gaming, saying that doing so is based on one legal opinion.

Charter schools were set to receive a portion of $45 million from the Treasury the following day after 312 school districts withheld funds.

A number of charter schools sent a petition to the Department of Education asking for funding after school districts began to refuse to send the state-mandated tuition payments.

The districts argue that if they were not receiving state funding during the stalemate, then the charter schools should not receive any money, either.  They said they needed to hold onto as much funding as they could until they began to receive funding again.

Bethlehem Superintendent Joseph Roy said the decision by the Treasury was “a good first step.”

“I hope to see similar action by the Legislature to correct the many inequities plaguing charter funding and costing taxpayers over a billion dollars a year,” he said.

According to state law, charter schools have the right to appeal any non-payment of tuition funds by school districts.  In such cases, the state is allowed to use any fund to pay them, not just the education budget.  The state had decided to use gaming money to pay the charter schools this time around, money that is typically used to offer property tax relief to homeowners.

An equal amount of tax relief funds were then being taken from school districts who did not make their payments to charter schools, causing districts to be left with even less funding, as they had already offered the tax relief to homeowners.

The lawsuit was filed against the Education Department, as well as the treasurer, by PSBA, who represents the 500 districts in the state and has advised them not to pay the charter schools, writes Evan Grossman for The Pennsylvania Independent.

“PSBA contends that diversion of the property tax reduction allocations is unlawful, as it is held in trust in the Property Tax Relief Fund for the benefit of taxpayers and is not subject to the subsidy interception provisions of the Charter School Law,” PSBA said.

A formal inquiry is also being sought by the PSBA.  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said he was already looking into the payments.