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Charter Schools Siphon Public Funds

Charter schools siphon public funds

by Jenn Kight

As charter schools grow in popularity in the State College Area School District, they are draining more and more money from public coffers.

The school district will lose about $2.2 million on charter schools this year, according to SCASD Business Administrator Dennis Younkin. And that number is expected to rise.

Tuition—at about $12,000 per pupil—is the same for all students not in special-education programs, regardless of the school they attend. But when a student transfers from a traditional public school to a charter school, she takes most of that $12,000 with her.

Meanwhile, many costs at the public school remain. The electric company, the cafeteria staff and the student’s former teacher must still be paid.

Forced to reimburse the charter school and fill the financial hole at the public school, the school district ends up paying nearly double, according to State College Area school board member Gowen Roper.

"Its not that we can reduce the number of classes we have or the number of teachers we have," Roper said. "We can't reduce anything, because it's not like 24 students from any one class go to a charter school."

The school district will spend about $2.9 million on charter schools this year. A quarter of that will be reimbursed by the state, leaving about $2.2 million to be paid by the school district, which has a total budget of approximately $101 million. Younkin told Voices that he considers the $2.2 million lost money.

Of the approximately 7,100 students in the school district, 271 attend charter schools. Local brick-and-mortar charter schools enroll 240 students, and the other 31 are in cyber charter schools.

SCASD Superintendent Patricia Best said charter schools raise—but don’t necessarily double—costs.

The real problem, Best said, is that legislators claimed charter schools would lower school district costs, but the opposite occurred.

Roper echoed Best’s concerns, explaining that the state charges school districts with the responsibility of funding charter schools but only gives them money to pay for a portion of the charter school costs.

"The longstanding issue is that this is an unfunded mandate by the state," Roper said.

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