Charter schools to start receiving state funds, while public schools left in limbo

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – As the budget impasse pushes through its 108th day, human services and school districts aren’t getting paid, but some charter schools are set to start receiving state funds.

Rhetoric reigned once more Friday in the Susquehanna Township municipal building, as Gov. Tom Wolf called on Republicans, yet again, to drop the “smoke and mirrors” and compromise.

“I have made concessions. I made historic concessions,” Wolf said, speaking to reporters during an afternoon news conference. “Tell me what [the Republicans] have done. … I really, for the life of me, have not seen any concessions on their part.”

The GOP responded not long after, saying the state “deserves better.”

“The longer Tom Wolf chooses to campaign rather than govern, the worse our schools and social services will get,” Republican party communications director Megan Sweeney said in a statement.

State auditor general Eugene DePasquale announced last month school districts statewide have borrowed more than $346 million through September to keep their doors open through the impasse.

Friday, another ripple effect emerged: The Pennsylvania School Boards Association, or PSBA, said the state has begun diverting gaming revenues that would normally go to public schools, so they can pay charter schools.

“It is outrageous,” PSBA spokesman Steve Robinson wrote in a news release, “that the administration would resort to diversion of funds intended for taxpayers in order to immunize charter schools from the fiscal pain all other public schools are experiencing.”

The release says it’s “unlawful,” and the PSBA called for an investigation.

But the Pennsylvania Department of Education said they don’t have a choice.

Districts pay charters a certain amount of money, based on the number of students from the district who go to the charter school.

If they don’t — or can’t — pay all of it, PDE says they’re “mandated by the Pennsylvania School Code” to withhold an estimated amount “from any and all state payments” to districts to fill the gap for charters.

“While Governor Wolf and [Education] Secretary [Pedro] Rivera recognize the unfairness of this provision and believe it should be changed,” department press secretary Nicole Reigelman wrote in a statement, “PDE must follow the law.”

Tim Eller, executive director of the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an organization with around 30 member schools, said the law makes sense.

Public schools, he said, also get money from local taxes; but charters rely solely on districts for funding.

He said it would likely take until the end of October for charter schools to start receiving payments from gaming revenues, but that a “significant number of charter schools” will probably benefit.

Still, DePasquale, the auditor general, announced he’ll review the process.

“This is just another example of the pain being inflicted on our entire educational system by the prolonged state budget impasse,” he wrote in a news release. “Both our charter schools and our school districts must receive the funding they are entitled to — funding they sorely need to educate our students.”

Wolf told reporters he was surprised by the payments Friday, and that his office plans to look into them, too.

“I’ll get back to you,” he said when asked.

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