Thirty months after Gov Corbett signed PA Act 3 into law on the stage of William Tennent High School in Centennial School District, PA House Finance Chair Bernie O’Neill is still trying to fix the broken process by which public school districts pay charter school operators for the special education services they claim to provide. This is not new territory for Chm O’Neill, himself a former special education teacher at WTHS. He’s been fighting this up(capitol)hill battle for more than a decade.
Spearheaded by Representative O’Neill and Senator Pat Browne, the Special Education Funding Commission authorized by Act 3 of 2013, brought forth a new formula that was fair to both public school districts and charter school operators. HB2138 was overwhelmingly approved in the House. Unfortunately, when the Senate approved the bill, it was weighted down by a seventeen year phase in period to take the wind out of its sails.
Now Rep O’Neill is pushing to have the Special Education Funding Formula written into the PA School Code. I think that is a great idea, as long as it applies to both Public School Districts and Publicly Funded Charter/Cyber Charter Schools alike.
Under the current practice, charter school operators are grossly overpaid for the services they provide because they receive a “flat rate” for each student they recruit for their school and subsequently identify with a minor need for special education. The vast majority of special need students cherry picked by charter programs require minimal services like speech therapy or developmental reading. Children with catastrophic disabilities remain with the public school districts who pay whatever it cost for their education, without limitation.
Public school districts pay the actual cost (large or small amounts) for each student receiving such services. Where a charter operator provides even the most limited of services, they are paid an amount equal to the total Special Education costs of the sending school district divided by the number of students receiving care. Because catastrophic cases are included in the total, the “average cost” represents a disproportionate windfall of cash for charter school operators taking only routine cases.
My original animation in 2014 reports $350MM to charters for 2013 Special Ed funding with only $150MM spent. A surplus to charter school operators of $200MM which is unaccounted for. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRw5oO02KpA Even worse, because these same students may be identified as “special need” into the following year (or longer), the average cost per student in the sending school continually spirals upward.
One year later Pennsylvania School Boards Association prepared an updated animation showing that $437MM was paid to charter school operators who only spent $169MM. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hY8o-XMUBKE&feature=youtu.be This is a very graphic demonstration of how the average payment will continue to escalate logarithmically every year until there is a new formula in place. In 2014, the surplus paid to charter operators reached $270MM, which is (again) unaccounted for.
Until the formula is fixed, the current formula is heavily weighted against public school districts who pay actual cost for each student (even in catastrophic circumstance) while charter school operators are continuing to be unjustly enriched by the “flat rate” average while only accepting students needing little or no special education investment.
By incorporating the Special Education Funding Formula into the PA School Code, Rep Bernie O’Neill has devised a method that will assure all children receive the care they need, while making more than $250MM more dollars available to be used across the public school districts who are currently overpaying charter school operators.
I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts!