New Castle News


October 10, 2013

Our Opinion: State House votes to scale back excess spending

NEW CASTLE — The Pennsylvania Legislature has taken a modest — yet overdue — step toward fiscal responsibility in education.

A measure approved by the state House and sent to the Senate would reduce the amount of money public schools send to cyber charter schools. Whenever a child from a given school district opts to attend a charter school, state law requires the home district to transfer subsidy funds on behalf of that student to the charter facility.

But districts have long argued the amount of money sent to cyber schools significantly exceeds their needs. And recent evidence of that surfaced with the filing of federal charges against the founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Midland. Prosecutors allege money was siphoned from the school to pay for a variety of schemes and personal perks.

Defenders of these cyber schools say the House measure goes too far and could put these largely online schools out of business. They will have the opportunity to make this case before the state Senate, as it reviews and acts on the House bill.

Regardless, there is an opportunity to make some cuts here, and the Senate should not ignore its fiscal responsibility.

One of the key issues appears to be pension costs. Critics claim the cyber schools receive pension payments from both public schools and the state. Obviously, that has to stop.

But it is also not realistic to have a system that provides money to charter schools to cover the costs of meals and transportation when these services aren’t provided to children. Common sense needs to apply to the funding process.

The House vote on this measure was overwhelming and bipartisan, but there were lawmakers opposed. Some indicated the bill didn’t go far enough, suggesting some of the cutbacks on funding also should apply to non-cyber charter schools. If there are inequities, that ought to be pursued, but this measure remains a valid move.

And, in an article that appeared in yesterday’s issue of the New Castle News, one state lawmaker, Rep. Brad Roae of Crawford County, said he had voted against the bill because it did nothing to rein in what he views as excessive spending by school districts.

If Roae believes that’s a problem, he has the opportunity to seek additional changes. But we would point out that when it comes to school districts, local voters have the chance to elect school boards that decide taxation and spending matters. No such power exists at the local level with charter schools and their spending.

A single piece of legislation is not going to solve every fiscal problem in public education, real or perceived. But this one strikes us as a positive step.

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