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Pa. bills would change formula for funding charter schools

By Bo Koltnow, Reporter, BKoltnow@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 16 2014 04:03:09 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 16 2014 04:38:06 PM CST

A couple of bills are being kicked around the Pennsylvania Legislature that would reform the way charter schools are approved and funded in the state.

A couple of bills are being kicked around the Pennsylvania Legislature that would reform the way charter schools are approved and funded in the state.

Walking inside a former gym, Thomas Lubben talked about turning it into Allentown's newest charter school.

"This is about school choice," he says.

For public schools, however, that choice comes with a cost.

"We have a $10.6 million shortfall. We are paying charter schools $22 million by the end of the year," said Russ Mayo, superintendent, Allentown School District.

With charter school enrollment growing and funding for public education shrinking, Mayo said the need for reform is overdue.

"I think the bills in the House and the Senate are at least a step in that direction," Mayo said.

Highlights of the bills would change the current funding formula, such as eliminating what Mayo called double dipping -- when districts pay double the amount for charter school employee pensions costs.

Some estimates said it could save public schools $33 million yearly, but Mayo said that's only a drop in the bucket toward his nearly $250 million budget.

"That will break down to a few hundred thousand, maybe a million," Mayo estimated.

Lubben contended charter schools already work on shoestring budgets as it is.

"We operate on a 80 percent funding of what normal school have," Lubben added.

The bills would also require better oversight and transparency for charter schools. Perhaps the most befuddling for Mayo and Lubben is the idea that four-year universities would also be able to approve charter schools. As of now, only school districts can do so.

The bills are expected to be voted on within the next few weeks.