While continuing their advocacy for current state legislative proposals that would dramatically reform funding formulas for private cyber charter schools, Palisades School District officials are also continuing their long-running advocacy to reverse the decline in state funding for public education in general.
In particular, the overall state funding issue is seen as pressuring local school district taxpayers to make up the difference.
At the March 20 public school board meeting, board President Bob Musantry continued a theme from the March 6 meeting, urging support for the cyber charter bills, SB34 and HB526, to be “pushed out of committee and passed into law.”
The bills would require parents to pay their children’s tuition for the private, for-profit entities if the public school district where they live has its own cyber charter program.
“These bills recognize the hard work and forethought that the district had in creating a Cyber Academy for the benefit of Palisades students,” Musantry said.
The tuition the district pays for each private school student living within its borders has been cited in recent years’ budget discussions as a major factor pressuring the board to raise taxes. While the board has been able to limit tax increases to less than 1 percent the last few years, after none the few years before that, board members have long complained that the formulas used to calculate the tuitions are in urgent need of reform.
In an example cited after the meeting by district Business Manager Drew Bishop, the formula currently includes maintenance costs for the district’s five public school buildings, which the private school students do not use, as well as its administrative building, while a cyber charter school typically has just an administrative building.
While advocates for the cyber charters emphasize the need for parents to have school choices, and note the current reform proposals would threaten the continued existence of the cyber charters, they also note there are needs for reform in funding, including ideas such as making it more performance-related.
Critics have long noted poor performance for the cyber charters, as well as general lack of oversight, particularly when compared to the rigorous oversight within which the public schools operate.
Musantry also noted that “state appropriations for basic funding as a share of actual instructional expenses was last at 50 percent in 1975-76, and in 2015-16 it was around 32-33 percent.” Bishop added that at Palisades, it was currently at 23 percent.
“While I know getting back up to 50 percent is not happening anytime soon, it would be nice if the legislators in Harrisburg could at least pass the current cyber charter reform bills,” Musantry said.
He announced that April 29 is Advocacy Day in Harrisburg for public education. A project of the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA), the group notes its Government Affairs team will connect its members with state legislators “to advocate powerfully and directly on behalf of your districts, region, and public education broadly.”
Further information is available at 717-506-2450.