We have mentioned it in this space. Both Warren County School Board members and charter school advocates have mentioned it: Financial considersations can not be used as a reason to either approve or deny a charter application.
That's part of the charter school law in Pennsylvania.
Why did the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the same state government that tells school boards they can't raise taxes over a certain threshold without a public referendum, decide that school boards can't consider finances with regard to the creation of a charter school?
When the dust cleared from Monday's meeting between the WCSB and the Eisenhower Charter School organization in which that very issue was addressed, there was little agreement on just how much the creation of a charter school will cost the school district more than it is paying now for the education of students at the current Eisehower Middle/High School. One thing was clear, however; it will be a net financial loss to the district, which will have to be made up somewhere in the district's budget.
There are a number of problems with how the funding formula is applied to charter schools in Pennsylvania, flaws that were pointed out by state Auditor General Jack Wagner last December, when he called on the legislature to re-examine the law and fix the formulas.
Since that time, the legislature has been busy with weightier issues, like making this year the Year of the Bible and a constitutional amendment that would prohibit forcing anyone in Pennsylvania to buy health insurance (introduced by our very own Sen. Joe Scarnati as a sort of feel-good bashing of the federal Affordable Health Care Act currently debated before the U.S. Supreme Court). The legislation is, of course, meaningless.
Instead, there are school districts across Pennsylvania that are struggling with basic subsidy cuts (and fearing more on the horizon) while at the same time suffering additional financial losses to charter schools.
In a report issued by the Auditor General's office in 2010, just over $700 million was spent on charter and cyber charter schools and about $225 million in reimbursements went to school districts, without knowing what it actually costs to educate a child in a charter or cyber charter school. "Consequently, taxpayers paid an additonal premium payment of $3,122 per child to school districts for students who transferred to a charter or cyber charter school," according to a release from Wagner's office.
This is not to say that charter schools are not a good thing in some situations, just that the funding formulas are skewed and need to be adjusted.
Beyond that, government on every level, from the federal juggernaut down to local school boards, have a basic responsibility to taxpayers to make decisions that make the best and most efficient use of their taxes. For one level of government to tell the next that it must ignore that basic principle when deciding an issue intrinsically linked to the fiscal health of a taxing agency is just plain wrong.