Audit Finds PDE’s Oversight On Charter School Payments Insufficient

Aug 26, 2016

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says it's not easy for school districts to get back money they think has been wrongly routed to charters.
Credit Dick Thomas Johnson / Flickr

  An audit of the state Department of Education has found that the process to address appeals of charter school payment is unclear, and should be reexamined.

Pennsylvania’s charter schools receive part of their money from the public school districts in which they’re located. The charter submits a bill, and the district can approve or deny it.

But under current law, if the district denies the bill, the charter can go directly to the state Education Department for the funding.

According to the audit report, the department then approves it, no questions asked, and it's paid out from the district’s state subsidy.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said it’s not easy for districts to get back money they think has been wrongly routed to charters.

“A school district’s only option,” he said, “is to enter into a lengthy, confusing, nonsensical, rabbit-hole world that is PDE’s charter school payment appeals process.”

The audit showed that 82 percent of such school district appeals from the last five years are still listed as unresolved, as of December.

As a result, $3.5 million is currently in what the report calls “limbo." That is money school districts say was wrongly taken out of their funding.  

The state auditor general's office released a graphic indicating the numbers of appeals and payments regarding charter schools.
Credit PA Auditor General

DePasquale said the fault lies, not with the charter schools, but with the education department's lack of oversight, as well as some more systemic problems.

“Our audit reveals a serious lack of clarity in the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s policies and procedures and follow-through, and once again, the failings of the charter school law itself,” he said.

On several occasions, DePasquale has said he thinks Pennsylvania’s charter school law is outdated, and ultimately the “worst in the country.”

The PDE has not responded to a request for comment.