This article does a good job explaining one of the key inequities in the charter school funding formula related to Special Education. The funding formula does not take into account the type of special education needs the children attending charter schools have. So, while costs to address speech and language impairments are significantly lower than those for other disabilities such as
blindness, deafness, or autism, the amount of funding charters receive for children with any type of special education need is the same. Additionally, the per child rate that public schools must pay for district students attending charter schools is based upon an assumed % of students with special education needs, not an actual amount; if the district’s special education population exceeds that assumed %, their costs are higher, but this funding formula neglects and penalizes the district for this. This is demonstrative of the entire problem with the way charters are funded which is completely unrelated to their costs. How can this make sense when these schools are supposed to be non-profit?
I found this quote by Lawrence Jones, president of the PA Coalition for Public Charter Schools, very interesting. In response to the proposal for payment levels for charter special education students based upon the severity of disability, he said it could create "a second class of students" getting lower payments and lead to "potentially substandard treatment for some." Given the assumption that teachers would not be aware of how much money was being paid by each district for each student, what would the basis be for this “substandard treatment”. More importantly, how is this any different than the way the schools are already funded? Different districts pay different amounts for their students to attend THE SAME charter school since the funding is based on the home district’s average spending per student. So, if there is a fear of this second class mentality occurring, why is this not already a concern? And shouldn’t the administration of these schools be capable of ensuring this disparate treatment does not occur?
The truth is that charter schools like the way they are funded, because they have no responsibility to prove that they are using all funds received on students. While charters themselves are non-profit, the management companies some use are not, so there is ample opportunity for misappropriation and fraud. Just last month the former chief executive officer of a charter school in Northwest Philadelphia pleaded guilty to stealing more than $500,000 in taxpayer funds
intended for the school, and in total frauds of $861,000. Anyone who has spent any time looking at charter schools has heard the name Vahan Gureghian. Mr. Gureghian is a Philadelphia lawyer and multi-millionaire who owns a company called Gureghian's Charter School Management Inc. that manages the Chester Community Charter School’s (located in the Chester Upland School District) finances. His company owns the school buildings and leases them back to the school, and he collects a management fee of $5,000 per student! Where is the competition and market driven pricing there? While Chester Upland School district has been forced to cut staff and programs and is not even sure it will have enough money to finish the school year, there has been no evidence that the Chester Community Charter School has had to make any cuts. And while the charter school is public and subject to Right to Know laws since it receives taxpayer money, Mr. Gureghian's private, for-profit management company is not and so its finances are not open
for public scrutiny. Oh, and Mr.Gureghian was also the largest contributor to Governor Corbett’s campaign, and Governor Corbett is trying to expand charter school laws in PA….
I think there are great merits to the concept of charter schools. Some children simply do not
thrive in the traditional public school setting, and for them and their parents charter schools can be life saving. I also have no problem with the idea of charter schools providing competition in
order to push government run, bureaucratic public schools to perform better, and to act as champions for the development of best practices. Isn’t that what they were established to do? It is not the concept, it is how it has been operationalized that I take issue with. Should charter schools drain funds from their public school counterparts at a rate that these schools cannot survive? Should some be able to profit from taxpayer funded schools because the laws are not equipped to deal with the opportunities for fraud? Shouldn’t the taxpayer funds sent to these schools be tied to the money being spent to educate students there, especially since charter school testing results have lagged behind those of public schools? Isn’t it time that we as taxpayers start paying as much attention to how our money is being spent in these schools as we are to how they are spent in the public schools? In a time of cost cutting and the need to make every dollar spent count, I think the answer to that question is an unequivocal YES.