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PA House Considers Funding Changes For Charter Schools

State House lawmakers are wrestling with possible changes to laws that govern Pennsylvania's charter and virtual charter schools.

In the process, they're hearing from the Auditor General's office, which reports that the rapid growth of such schools in the state is making things harder for poor school districts.

Deputy Auditor General Thomas Marks told the House Education Committee Tuesday the problem stems from how charter schools are funded, based on the cost of educating a student in his or her home school district, and not the cost of education at the charter.

"So you could have a situation where one student is attending a charter school, and the charter school receives maybe six-thousand dollars to educate that student, yet a student sitting right next to the first student, the charter school is receiving maybe 15-thousand dollars for that, to educate that student," said Marks.

Committee chairman Paul Clymer (R-Bucks) says these inconsistencies put his panel in a tricky position.

"We don't want to create legislation that is going to hurt all the charter schools, because they serve a purpose, that's why they are growing, but at the same time there has to be some very close oversight," said Clymer.

The hearing witnessed various references to cash-strapped school districts throughout the state, and how they're feeling the pinch of required payments to charters and cyber charters.

Clymer also says the committee is trying to re-write the formula that determines how much funding school districts hand over to charter and cyber-charter schools.

"We just want to make certain that the dollars they get are sufficient for the child, that there's not this overpayment that we hear from so many sources," said Clymer.

Bob Fayfich with the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, says he doesn't know many big supporters of the current funding system, but charters aren't the problem.

"There is a significant opportunity for school districts to underpay. As a matter of
fact, there are about 400 school districts in the state that have children in cyber
schools. 200 of those school districts flatly refuse to pay the charter schools at
all."