Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pittsburgh Public Schools Board Endorses Pair of Bills on Charter School Law Reform

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pittsburgh Public Schools Board Endorses Pair of Bills on Charter School Law Reform

Article excerpt

The Pittsburgh Public Schools board on Wednesday voted in support of two bills on charter school law reform expected to be introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature in the near future.

House Bill 2261 and Senate Bill 1024, which have identical language, aim to reform the way charter schools in the state are funded.

The bills would require that charter schools be reimbursed using the special education fair funding formula for special education students already used by public school districts. They also institute a statewide cyber charter school tuition rate.

"Charter school funding is, to me, something that's broken. The funding formula is broken," school board member Pam Harbin said. "We are overpaying charter schools for students, particularly students with disabilities."

Public school districts pay tuition for students who live in their districts but attend charter schools. The costs fluctuate from district to district, and they increase significantly for special education.

The state's charter school law and funding formula have not been substantially reformed since being instituted in 1997.

"It is incomprehensible that this has been going on for so long," school board member Bill Gallagher said. "I hope that the public realizes where their money is going. It is not going to the right place."

School board member Sala Udin was absent, but all other members were present and approved supporting the bills.

The bills also require charter school trustee meetings to be conducted in accordance with the Sunshine Act, the same as public school board meetings. It also enforces the same financial ethics reporting requirements by charter school trustees and administrators as school board members and district officials.

State Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-Montgomery County, is sponsoring the House bill, while the Senate bill is being sponsored by state Sens. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport, and Lindsey Williams, D-West View.

The cost-saving provisions in the bills are similar to those made in Gov. Tom Wolf's 2021 budget proposal. Mr. Wolf said imposing the same special education funding formula used to distribute money to school districts on charter schools would save districts $147 million. …

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