A ruling handed down from a Delaware County Court judge states that Pennsylvania's Chester Upland School District must follow the state's charter school funding formula and continue to pay charter schools that educate students who reside in the financially-strapped district.
At the end of a hearing that stretched over the course of two days, Judge Chad Kenney said that the plan suggested by the Commonwealth to bring the district to financial stability was "wholly inadequate." He added that the lawyers for the state and district had not offered "meaningful specifics or details" concerning how they intended to carry out their plan.
Kenney did give the district permission to hire a turnaround specialist as well as a forensic auditor.
Meanwhile, the Wolf administration and the district's state-appointed receiver, Frances Barnes, argued that the district may not be able to open on time unless a change to the formula was made. It is unknown as to whether they plan to appeal the ruling.
"Judge Kenney's decision to reject necessary reforms to the special education rates paid by the school district to its charter schools will unfortunately allow a decades-old problem to persist, and the district's massive budget deficit will only worsen," Wolf said. "It is clear serious financial reforms are still needed, and my administration will evaluate its options moving forward."
While lawyers for the state made claims that the financial issues faced were unique to the district, critics argued that they were merely an attempt by the governor to attack charter schools in Pennsylvania. The claims made concerning district costs were challenged by charter school representatives who also testified that if payments were cut, they may be forced to close.
The district currently pays local charter schools $64 million in tuition in exchange for the education of almost half of the district's 7,000 students. That amount is more than the district receives in state aid.
Lawyers for the Wolf administration had suggested a recovery plan that would see a reduction in charter school payments by about $24 million for the upcoming school year.
"The students and the parents shouldn't have to deal with this every year," Wolf's spokesman, Jeff Sheridan, said Tuesday before a school board meeting in Chester. "This has persisted under Republican and Democratic governors from the early 1990s."
The lawyers continued their argument by saying the largest issue they found with the funding formula involved the reimbursement of children in need of special education. The per-pupil cost of such a student in the district is over $40,000, with special education enrollment about 50% higher than the state average.
However, representatives for the charter school noted that implementing the new plan would cause drastic results for charter schools across the state. They added that the district had not provided details concerning their own costs for special education students. Kenney called the lack of details "significant."
"It's not about us against them," said John Shelton, dean of students at Toby Farms Elementary School. "We have a formula that's not working for our district."