We’d like our $200 million back, please. That’s how much money charter schools in Pennsylvania collected last year for special education in excess of what they actually spent on special education for students. Charter schools took in over $350 million, but spent only $150 million. (Or $350,562,878 vs. $156,003,034 to be exact.) So where’s our extra $200 million? (OK, $193,559,844 to be exact.)
Our colleague, Mark Spengler, who is a public education advocate in the Lehigh Valley and tracked down this data, points out that, “charter schools are not obligated to spend special education funding for special education purposes. That money can be spent for numerous miscellaneous reasons including billboards and mailer advertisements.” [Lower Macungie Patch, 5-26-14]
Last year, the Pennsylvania legislature created a Special Education Funding Commission to devise a new funding formula. Deplorably, the old formula did not reimburse schools for the actual cost of educating students with special needs, which resulted in great inequities (and under-funding for some of the state’s most vulnerable children). The bi-partisan commission’s recommendations formed the basis for House Bill 2138 and Senate Bill 1316 now under consideration. These bills would create a fair and rational system of funding special education in Pennsylvania based on actual costs. However, Harrisburg lobbyists are threatening to kill the two bills.
Our partner, Education Voters PA, is making it easy for us to help fight back: click here to send an email to your state senator and representative (you can keep the suggested wording on the form, or edit your digital postcards). This took me less than 12 seconds to do. EdVoters explains that our senators and representatives need to hear the following in support of SB 1316 / HB 2138:
- “The current system of funding special education is broken and unfair. It does not provide enough resources for the services children need and it does not ensure that all special education dollars are spent on special education services.
- “State special education funding should be distributed to both school systems and charter schools based on the level of services that students need. Allocating taxpayer dollars differently to school districts and charter schools doesn’t make sense. All of our public schools should receive funding distributed by the same allocation formula.
- “State special education funding should be spent ONLY on providing students with services. Any excess special education funding should be returned to the state and allocated to help other children get the services they need. If some schools receive and keep more special education dollars than they are spending on services for children, these schools are reaping a financial advantage at the expense of children with special needs in Pennsylvania.
- “If the legislature chooses to freeze special education funding at current levels for charter schools, no additional money should accrue to charter schools based on the old, flawed system for funding special education. Any new special education funding for charter schools must be based on the new law and fair to all of Pennsylvania’s special needs children.”
If we can’t get our $200 million back to help students who actually have special education needs, the very least we can do is urge our representatives to pass these special education funding and accountability reform bills. That’s just common sense and rationale. And above all, fair to Pennsylvania’s children.