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Charter Schools Cry Foul Over Funding Cut

The Pennsylvania State House chamber.
Matt Rourke

The warm, fuzzy feelings didn’t last long.

As the state expedited billions of dollars in overdue payments to schools, counties, and social services, charter schools condemned the Wolf administration’s decision to reroute some of their money in the absence of a Legislature-approved funding formula.

When lawmakers passed a budget right before the New Year, they neglected to approve other related items that act as a roadmap for spending decisions. A “school code” bill setting an education funding formula never passed.

Without a set plan for doling out education dollars, the governor’s office was able redirect $8 million dollars that went to charter schools last year. Wolf’s office sent the money to school districts instead.

Republican lawmakers criticized the governor’s action Tuesday, saying education money should be divvied up according to past precedent. But one charter school group acknowledged that unfinished business in the Legislature had given the governor the ability to fund by fiat.

“Without the enabling legislation, the governor does have some discretion in driving out money. So this is one of those unintended consequences,” said Tim Eller, spokesman for the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The group represents about a third of the state’s charter schools.

“I think the governor does it because the administration doesn’t care for charter schools,” Eller added.

The governor’s spokesman said the change was intended to assist traditional public schools with the tuition costs they must pay to charter schools. State-funded tuition reimbursements were eliminated under Governor Tom Corbett’s administration.

Eller said the Keystone Alliance is considering a lawsuit against the Wolf administration over the funding cut.

Republican House Majority Leader Dave Reed said Tuesday he’s not sure if the governor’s move was illegal.

“I guess everything’s legal until the courts decide it’s not,” Reed said.