By Peter L. DeCoursey

Bureau Chief

HARRISBURG (June 3) – The House Education Committee on Monday moved to the floor a sweeping charter school reform package supporters say will move an estimated $80 million a year from charters back to their districts. The committee separately passed legislation containing a three-year moratorium on new cyber charter schools.

House Bill 618 also contains a 19-member, two year charter school funding commission with six members each from the charter school and school district communities, with the balance of appointees coming from the four legislative caucuses and the governor.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said: “This legislation would reform Pennsylvania’s 16-year-old charter school law that saves school districts nearly $100 million in two years, and furthermore it makes much needed fiscal and accountability improvements.

“It achieves these savings and reforms while promoting real school choice for students and their parents.”

The savings are achieved by allowing school districts, during the two years the funding commission is assessing facts, to deduct its cafeteria and pension costs before applying the funding formula which sends funds to cyber charter schools.

But House Minority Education Committee Chairman James Roebuck, D-Philadelphia, said: “I have introduced a bill that would save $365 million in the first year and include more financial accountability and more comprehensive reforms to these publicly funded schools. The Republican bill doesn’t even come close, and I and other Democrats plan to offer amendments to it in the full House. Without changes, this bill deserves a D-plus because it doesn’t save nearly enough.”

Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, responded: “Updating charter school policy is critical and would directly increase funding for traditional public schools. House Bill 618 would build a solid foundation to strengthen school choice options for students and families across the Commonwealth, while creating a level funding playing field for public schools.”

“This compromise would strengthen educational opportunities for all students in Pennsylvania, regardless of where they are attending public school. We know that offering families educational choices allows students to flourish. It’s all about finding the right balance, and this legislation is an excellent starting point.”

The comprehensive amendment that changed House Bill 618 to its current form – CLICK HERE for a full summary prepared by House Republican staff – passed 13-12, with all Democrats voting against it. The bill was also moved to the House on an identical party-line vote, with two Republicans joining committee Democrats in each case.

Roebuck praised House Bill 618 for removing the “double dip” that gives cyber charter schools more funding for pension costs, but wanted the same change made for regular charter schools, which serve ten times as many students.

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools disagreed, stating: “HB 618 contains an unfair provision which allows school districts to deduct 100 percent of their pension contributions before paying the cyber charter schools for the district’s children attending a cyber charter school. This change simply eliminates one inequity by creating another. Here’s why.

“Right now the districts pass through 100 percent of the pension expense to the cybers for the teachers who are teaching the districts’ children in the cyber school. The Commonwealth then reimburses the districts and cybers for 50 percent of their pension costs. That is the double dip for the cybers and it should be rectified.

“The problem is that the language passed by the House Education Committee goes too far in rectifying this inequity. By allowing the districts to deduct 100 percent of the pension expenses, while still receiving their 50 percent reimbursement from the state, the language enables the districts to retain taxpayer money, and receive state reimbursement, for expenses they simply do not incur while forcing underfunding of the pension liability for the cyber schools. This simply replaces a “cyber double dip” with a “district double dip.” Moreover, it will lead to an average 10 percent per year funding cut to the cybers while in effect. This is on top of the fact that they are already educating children for 20 percent less than the traditional schools. This severe, arbitrary, and unfair cut in funding will effectively destroy some of the cyber schools in Pennsylvania well before the two year sunset provision kicks in.

“Two far more equitable solutions would be to either cut the district pass-through to the amount they are not reimbursed by the Commonwealth and retain the state reimbursement for both district and cyber schools, or retain the total pass-through from the districts and eliminate the state reimbursement to the cybers.”

Roebuck also praised the bill for requiring a similar teacher evaluation system for charters to the system in district-run public schools. And he said the committee’s approval of House Bill 980 would apply surplus fund balance limits used for school district to charter schools, and ban all new cyber charters for three years. That passed 17-8 in the committee, with all ten Democrats voting for it, and Republicans opposing it 8-7.

The charter school association responded: “HB 980 is an ill-conceived piece of legislation that is intended to be punitive to charter schools and stands to do nothing to improve education for the children of Pennsylvania. HB 980 contains two major elements that threaten parental public school choice: a three-year moratorium on all cyber charters and a cap on unassigned fund balances for ALL charter schools. It is our hope the full House will oppose HB 980.”

But Roebuck said House Bill 618’s provisions on charter school managers’ fiscal transparency and conflict of interest are too weak, and that it fails to address:

• Special education overpayments;

• Mandating a year-end budget reconciliation between the charter school tuition paid by taxpayers and the schools’ actual costs;

• Banning taxpayer funding for advertising by charter and cyber charter schools.

House Bill 618 also states the funding commission should decide if a statewide charter school authorizer is necessary. The bill also achieves direct payment of charter schools by the state, a long-sought goal of the charters. The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials withdrew its previous opposition to that provision once documentation and verification procedures were improved, committee staff said.

The committee also voted to approve House Bill 1207 to raise the traditional Educational Improvement Tax Credit for business scholarships for students attending K-12 schools other than their district public school . It would raise the EITC tax credits from $100 million a year to $125 million a year, approving a bill by Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver.


Parent Op-Ed: Cyber Charters are Public Schools

My son is a good student, but he was not being challenged in his old school. His love of learning quickly changed into boredom and he began to dread going to school every day. After many fruitless discussions with the school administration, we looked at other options and decided to try Commonwealth Academy.

It has turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made. My son’s love of learning has returned and he is thriving [in the program].

Click here for more

ACTION ALERT: House Ed Committee Votes MONDAY!

The campaign to marginalize public school choice is advancing in the state House!

This Monday, the House Education Committee will hold hearings on proposals that threaten to slash funding for cyber schools. And cyber schools already receive only 81 percent of what traditional districts receive per student!

These drastic cuts will make it difficult—if not impossible—for cyber schools to compete. Indeed, many will be forced to close if funding is reduced.

Cyber schools are public charter schools that more than 32,000 Pennsylvania students have chosen as the school that best fits their needs. These children should not be treated as separate and unequal second-class citizens by shortchanging their education funding.

Tell Harrisburg you support reform that won’t cut cyber school funding!

  1. Click here to send your lawmakers a quick message.
  2. Call and email members of the House Education Committee. Contact information below:
Rep. Will Tallman Rep. Mark Gillen
Rep. Jim Christiana Rep. Seth Grove
Rep. Bernie O’Neill Rep. Mike Reese
Rep. Kathy Rapp Rep. Todd Rock
Rep. Ryan Aument Rep. Justin Simmons
Rep. Joe Emrick Rep. Dan Truitt
Rep. Harold English Rep. Steven Santarsiero
Rep. Mike Fleck Rep. Scott Conklin
Rep. Patrick Harkins Rep. Mark Longietti
Rep. Mike Carroll Rep. James Clay, Jr.
Rep. Erin Molchany Rep. Michael O’Brien
Rep. Jake Wheatley, Jr.

Thank you for joining the fight for school choice!

Schwank, Senate Committee to Hear Public Opinion On Cyber Charter Bill

The following is a communication from Senator Schwank’s office concerning tomorrow’s hearing. SB 335 proposes to allow districts to deny funding to any cyber charter school if the district offers a cyber “… program equal in scope and content to an existing publicly chartered cyber school…” This legislation fails to provide any definition as to who decides if the district program is “equal in scope and content.”

Left undefined, the district will unilaterally make that determination thereby effectively transferring the decision from the parent to the district and destroying parental choice.

Schwank, Senate Committee to Hear Public Opinion On Cyber Charter Bill

READING, May 29, 2013 – Sen. Judy Schwank and the Senate Education Committee will listen to public testimony beginning at 1 p.m., Thursday, May 30, at Northern Lebanon High School, about legislation affecting cyber charter schools.

Senate Bill 335, which Schwank proposed in January, would exempt school districts from paying cyber charter schools if that district offers a cyber program similar to a non-district cyber charter school.

Officials from the Northern Lebanon and Conrad Weiser school districts, Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Commonwealth Connections Academy, Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, and the 21st Century Cyber Charter School are scheduled to testify.

WHAT: Senate Education Committee public hearing on Sen. Schwank’s SB 335

WHEN: 1 p.m.

WHERE: Harlan A. Daubert Performing Arts Center, Northern Lebanon High School, 345 School Drive, Fredericksburg.

Charters wants accountability, transparency

Op-Ed by Dr. Michael Conti

CEO, Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School

The Observer-Reporter was neither when it penned its op-ed entitled “Wanting public money, but not the accountability.” The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School has been at the forefront of advocating for increased accountability and transparency among charter and cyber-charter schools for longer than a half-decade. Just a bit of basic reporting would have uncovered that, but apparently hyperbole ruled the day.

In spite of the fact that the Legislature has not yet adopted the heightened reforms we’ve requested, we stand by our principles, providing public information requested through the state’s Right-to-Know Law to whatever entity requests it. In all my time at PA Cyber, I can recall one instance in which a Right-To-Know request was denied and went unappealed. Again, basic reporting was ignored. READ MORE 

Sen.Teplitz Calls for Costing-out Study of ‘Flawed’ Charter School Funding Formula


Teplitz Calls for Costing-out Study of ‘Flawed’ Charter School Funding Formula

HARRISBURG, May 29, 2013 — As school districts continue to struggle with tighter budgets, state Sen. Rob Teplitz said a thorough examination of the charter school funding formula is needed to address spending inequities.

Teplitz has introduced a resolution directing the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a comprehensive statewide costing-out study of charter schools and cyber schools in Pennsylvania. The resolution has 19 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

Pennsylvania’s charter school funding formula establishes a per-student tuition rate based on the cost to educate a student in his or her home school district, and not on the actual costs at the charter or cyber charter school.

The flawed formula creates spending inefficiencies that hurt taxpayers, said Teplitz, who is a member of the Senate Education Committee.

“Many school districts are still struggling to balance their budgets and are forced to raise local taxes, while some charter and cyber charter schools maintain surpluses. It makes no sense that two children from different school districts who attend the same charter school bring with them different levels of taxpayer-funded tuition,” said Teplitz (D-Dauphin/York). “Families deserve to access an education that best fits their child’s needs, and that includes the many fine charter schools in Pennsylvania, but we have to make sure that no child is short changed. In order to make sure that all of our public schools are properly funded and that taxpayer dollars are used in an efficient and accountable manner, a comprehensive study of the cost associated with charter and cyber charter schools should be conducted.”

The study would determine the basic actual cost per student in charter and cyber charter schools and would provide a statewide tuition rate for both charter and cyber charter schools to ensure equitable and accountable distribution of funding.

The costing-out study would be submitted to the governor and leaders in the Senate and House by Nov. 30.

As the former chief counsel and policy director at the Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General, Teplitz worked on various reports that exposed the inequities and flaws in tuition rates that local school districts must pay to charter and cyber charter schools.

A June 2012 study showed that Pennsylvania has overpaid charter schools compared to the national average. Specifically, Pennsylvania charter schools spent an average of $13,411 per student — $3,000 more than the national average of about $10,000.

Pennsylvania cyber charter schools received about the same funding level as bricks-and-mortar charter schools, but they only spent an average of $10,145 per student, which is also $3,500 more than the national average of $6,500

“I support charter and cyber education as choices that families should be able to make. However, we must address the financial consequences of that choice,” Teplitz said. “Compared to national spending numbers, we could cut costs in half when it comes to educating cyber school students without jeopardizing their education. We need to make sure we are using funds in the most effective and efficient way possible and this study will help do that

“Pennsylvania could save hundreds of millions of dollars if we spent our money more wisely on funding charter and cyber charter schools. This resolution would take the first steps to determine a fair funding formula.”


A new poll shows 62 percent of Pennsylvania’s voters have favorable impressions of the concept of parental choice in public education. Conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research in Harrisburg, the poll shows 87 percent of the respondents believe parents should have the option to determine the type of public school that would best serve their child’s needs.

Read More


Governor Corbett Announces Changes at Pennsylvania Department of Education

HARRISBURG, Pa., May 15, 2013 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Governor Tom Corbett today announced that Ronald J. Tomalis will leave his post as Secretary of Education on May 31 to become Special Adviser to the Governor on Higher Education.

Tomalis, who has been with the administration since January 2011, will be responsible for overseeing, implementing and reviewing the recommendations made by the Governor’s Post Secondary Advisory Commission.

During Tomalis’ tenure with the Department of Education, he supervised sweeping changes in Pennsylvania’s educator evaluation system in order to recognize the many outstanding teachers across the state and identify other individuals who may need additional professional development.

He also stressed the importance of standardized testing procedures at schools across the state and implemented tighter security requirements for some schools where improprieties were suspected.

Tomalis also participated in the creation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which offers tax credits for businesses who provide scholarships for students living in low-achieving school districts.

In addition, Tomalis worked to bring about the return of the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for Sciences summer program. Partnering with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the program is designed for high school students who excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Secretary Tomalis has worked hard to make Pennsylvania’s public education system benefit all of Pennsylvania’s students to ensure their success beyond graduation,” Corbett said.

To replace Tomalis, the governor will be nominating Dr. William E. Harner, superintendent of the Cumberland Valley School District in Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County. His nomination will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Following a 20-year military career, Harner served in several educational capacities, from middle school principal to school superintendent in South Carolina to chief executive officer of the School District of Philadelphia.

“From his days at West Point to his service at Cumberland Valley, Dr. Harner has shown himself as an effective problem solver able to unite all sides in a common goal of educational excellence,” Corbett said.

“Those who have worked with him describe Dr. Harner as an accomplished student, born manager and decisive leader who can carry out our agenda of educational excellence in the face of any challenge.”

“I am truly honored that Governor Corbett has asked me to serve as the next Secretary of Education,” Harner said. “I look forward to working closely with the governor and members of the General Assembly as we strive to provide all Pennsylvania students with an exceptional education.”

Several members of the Cumberland Valley School District had high praise for Harner during his time in their district.

“Dr. Harner is a true leader who supports student achievement in our schools,” Donald Snyder, principal of Middlesex Elementary School said.

“He is committed to community involvement and student success. He encourages further education for staff and administrative personnel. He supports student initiatives and has the ability to help them fulfill their potential as participants and future leaders in our world.”

Lisa Anstine, a fifth-grade teacher in the school district, described Harner as “a mentor who actively helps teachers guide students down the road of success.”

“He is highly visible within our elementary school and interacts with students to get to know them as young people,” Anstine added.

“As a teacher in a school with many needs, he continually looks for ways to inspire students about all the educational opportunities that life has to offer. Dr. Harner has visited students in my classroom weekly, and he has been a positive role model in their lives.”

“In his five years with Cumberland Valley School District, Dr. Harner has successfully endeavored to raise rigor amongst our students,” Barbara Gleim, president of the Cumberland Valley School District Board of School Directors said.

“His overarching goal was to challenge all students to the best of their individual abilities. For this and all of his successes, we are truly appreciative. We wish Dr. Harner all the best in his new opportunity with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.”

Originally from Wyncote, Montgomery County, Harner, 56, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served in command and staff positions at West Point and Chief of Policy & Strategy, U.S. Forces Korea in Seoul.

He retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel after serving as an infantry battalion commander and receiving the Legion of Merit, the military highest award for service.

Harner has a doctorate in educational leadership and a master’s degree in education supervision and human resources from the University of South Carolina. He worked as a middle school and high school principal before he was named school superintendent for the Greenville County Schools in Greenville, S.C.

From there he served school districts in Gainesville, Ga., Toledo, Ohio, and Philadelphia, and then was named deputy superintendent for the Recovery School District of New Orleans, overseeing the reopening of nine school buildings in the post-Katrina area. He came to Cumberland Valley School District in 2008.

Prior to joining the Corbett administration, Tomalis worked for the U.S. Department of Education in several positions and, under former Governor Tom Ridge, he served as Pennsylvania’s executive deputy secretary of education.

After his public service, he was a private advisor and consultant in the field to non-and for-profit groups, foundations and companies operating in Pre-K and postsecondary education environments.

SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor

Charter Schools offer value, options

Like many parents, I have concerns about my children’s education. This isn’t an indictment of their teachers or school district. However, as an educator, I am astutely aware of the fact that people have different learning styles. What works for one of my students doesn’t always work for another.

Public schools have become highly bureaucratized and are not capable of adapting to individual children’s needs. While teachers are knowledgeable about learning, they often find that their hands are tied when it comes to making adaptations for a struggling student. Some children are diagnosed with a learning disability and qualify for “accommodations.” Within the public school, this individualized instruction can be expensive and school districts may be reluctant to provide it. Many students who would benefit from adaptations simply don’t qualify. Why not allow options and diversity? Let schools specialize in a particular approach and allow parents to determine which is best for their own child.

In higher education, we allow competition. Sometimes colleges fail. Yet, no one would argue that students should be forced to attend these universities to keep them afloat. We wouldn’t sacrifice the student to save the school. Why would we inflict that punishment on those in their more formative years? Read more…