Charter schools are under fire again this month, following renewed criticism from Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner on how the schools spend and save their funding. Here's a letter I wrote to the News Item rebutting damaging misconceptions about charter schools:
Your Dec. 12 editorial calling for greater charter school accountability repeats common myths about charter school funding that not only hurts the truth, but the children behind them.
The first myth is that charter schools receive more than their "actual cost" to educate students. When a child chooses a public charter school—which includes cyber schools—the education dollars earmarked for the child rightly follow him or her to the charter school.
How much follows the child is based on the average per-student spending of his resident school district. By law, charter schools cannot be reimbursed for spending categories such as construction and improvement services, community/junior college programs and debt servicing. On average, charter schools' cost per student is about 80 percent of what traditional public schools spend.
Charter schools spend less because they receive less. Auditor General Jack Wagner's flawed report showing that four other states spend less on cyber schools neglected to note that Texas, Ohio, Michigan and Arizona all spend less than Pennsylvania on their traditional public schools, too.
Second, you claim that charter schools have an unfair advantage in "amassing surpluses" because school districts have a cap. However, that cap—which is 12 percent of a district's budgeted expenditures—only applies when a school district raises taxes. School districts had more than $3 billion in reserves as of 2011. What's more, charter schools must save funds because school districts frequently delay reimbursing charters.
The editorial missed the most important point about charter schools: Pennsylvania families flock to them and children thrive in them. Enrollment is now well over 100,000. Schools of choice, including charters, save taxpayers $4.3 billion each year. Let's not hamstring charter schools when parents clearly want a choice in educating their children.