The Elk Lake School Board has sent to local legislators a resolution calling for “meaningful” changes in the way Pennsylvania funds charter schools.
Elk Lake and many school districts across the state have bemoaned the heavy financial burden they are faced with to pay for students who choose not to attend traditional public school but instead attend independent charter schools supported by public school funding.
During a January 14 hearing before the House Education Committee, members discussed a bill authored and sponsored by committee chairman Rep. Curt Sonney (R-Erie), which would eliminate all 14 of the state’s cyber charter schools serving 37,000 students and would require home school districts to create their own cyber education programs.
Critics have called the bill an “overreaction” which would eliminate parent choice in sending students to a cyber charter school or return them to a school district in which they have lost faith.
Here in Susquehanna County, Elk Lake superintendent Kenneth Cuomo expressed the displeasure he and other school superintendents have with the state’s current funding system.
“Our governor summed it up best in his direct quote: ‘We have this cyber charter law in the state of Pennsylvania which is the worst in the nation.’ The funding system is broken and it is breaking the backs of local school districts and — many people don’t see this — breaking the backs of taxpayers and I’m just going to say this very bluntly, breaking the backs of the students who are involved,” Cuomo said during last week’s school board meeting.
“I don’t believe there is one proven cyber charter school that has a passing grade by the state in the state of Pennsylvania,” Cuomo said.
“WHEREAS, the latest data from the PA Department of Education (PDE) shows that in 2017-2018, total charter school tuition payments (cyber and brick-and-mortar) were more than $1.8 billion, with $519 million of that total paid by districts for tuition to cyber charter schools;” the board’s resolution read in part.
Cuomo also said that in 2014-15 school districts paid cyber charter schools $100 million for special education services in excess of what cyber charter schools reported spending on special education students.
“There is no public school, brick and mortar school, that could operate that way legally in the state of Pennsylvania,” Cuomo said.
The Elk Lake School District provides $650,000 for funding of cyber charter schools from a $21.2 million 2019-2020 budget which that year cost taxpayers a 1.6 percent jump in taxes.
“What could we do with that money?” Cuomo asked. “Not raise taxes.”
The board also discussed without approving changes in the school calendar which could, weather permitting, see the school year end in May instead of June.
With the state’s approval of Sunday hunting, the traditional start of the hunting season on the Monday after Thanksgiving would then become a school day. Likewise with the Wednesday before Christmas, the school year would then be shortened by two days.
“If the weather is good to us next year we could be out before June. That would be interesting,” Cuomo observed.
Dr. Alice M. Davis, executive director of the Susquehanna County Career and Technical Center, announced that it had accepted a $147,616 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for use in expanding the technical center’s welding program. The grant is part of the PAsmart initiative designed to improve job training.
Davis also announced that four SCCTC students will attend the Future Business Leaders of America leadership conference April 6 to 8 at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center. Students Troy Rought and Colin Schake will compete in Accounting, Doug Priestner will compete in Accounting I and Mitchell Schwarztrauber will compete in Advertising.
The FBLA sponsors leadership and career development programs designed to improve the relationship between business and education.
In other actions, the board:
Approved a series of updates to 14 policies ranging from Health Examinations and Screenings and Building Security to school bus drivers and public attendance at school events. According to Cuomo none of the updates significantly change any of the already existing policies.
Elected board member Tyler Emmerich as the board liason to the Pennsylvania School Board Association
Board Chairman Arden Tewksbury also confirmed that the board had an executive session prior to the meeting to discuss personnel issues.