A Legal Mandate that Authorizers Consider Fiscal and other Impacts of Charter School Expansion
33 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2019 Last revised: 2 Jul 2019
Date Written: January 29, 2019
Pennsylvania’s Constitution mandates that the Commonwealth provide “for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” Pennsylvania decided to add charter schools to this system in 1997, a decision that, like all legislation, must be considered in light of this constitutional commitment to public education and to its role in preparing the Commonwealth’s students for their participation in democracy.
Charter schools cost money and the vast bulk of that money comes directly out of the budgets of Pennsylvania school districts. Pennsylvania spent nearly $1.7 billion on charter schools in 2016-2017. Pennsylvania also underfunds its school districts. It ranks 46 out of 50 states for the state contribution to education funding and has the dubious honor of having the largest gap in the country between highly funded districts and poorly funded ones. Those districts also have the responsibilities of authorizing new charter schools, exercising oversight over existing schools, and determining whether to renew or revoke charters. Some charter proponents argue that Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law bars school districts from giving any consideration to the financial impact on districts when they authorize or renew charter schools. This belief conflicts with the plain language of the Charter School Law and its legislative history, and is not supported by court decisions. It rests on a few decisions of the Charter Appeals Board (CAB) which have misinterpreted the language and intent of the Charter School Law. Not one opinion from the Pennsylvania appellate courts has held that authorizers are forbidden from any consideration of financial impact.
Balancing the needs and interests of all of the stakeholders in the public education system—students, families, teachers, support staff, administrators, schools—both traditional and charter, tax payers, retirees, and communities—is an enormous challenge. Charter schools are part of that public education system. But requiring school districts to completely ignore the financial impact of their decisions about charter growth cannot be the response to that challenge. If charters must be granted and renewed without any consideration of their financial impact on the school system as a whole, Pennsylvania will be even further impaired in its ability to meet its constitutional obligations. Thus, authorizers not only may consider financial impact, they must do so.
Keywords: education, charter schools, financial impact, public education
JEL Classification: K19, K23, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation