(April 22) Report: Let’s learn from the 1 in 6 high-performing Pa. charter schools; Roebuck plans bill to address $1.8M in overpayments, plus delayed payments around Pa.

Text from Press Release

PHILADELPHIA, April 21 – State Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila., Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, today released a new report showing that about one in six charter schools in Pennsylvania is high-performing. The report also addresses hot topics such as overpayments, whether universities should be able to authorize charter schools, greater scrutiny of cyber charter schools’ performance and funding, and a state commission’s recent recommendations on special education funding for charter schools.

“I would like the number of high performers among charter schools to be larger, but it’s important to ask what these schools have in common and what we can learn for use in other tax-funded schools, both traditional public ones and other charter schools,” Roebuck said.

“While the overall academic performance of charter schools and particularly cyber charter schools is disappointing and trails the academic performance of traditional public schools, there are many examples of charter schools that are successful in terms of academic performance and in being innovative in their approach to educating students,” Roebuck said.

“Twenty-eight of the 163 charter schools had SPP (School Performance Profile) scores of 80 or above. When examining the characteristics of these high-performing charter schools, there are certain common characteristics amongst the 28 charter schools. What is most common is that they offer innovative education programs, with most of them focused on a specific approach to education instruction or a specific academic area of instructional focus.”

The 28 high-performing charter schools are in Allegheny, Beaver, Bucks, Centre, Chester, Dauphin, Erie, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia counties, Roebuck said. More details about these schools are available in the full report, which is on Roebuck’s website at http://is.gd/DkaV8Q.

“It’s vital to look at what some charter schools are doing right and where they are being innovative because that was one of two reasons they were authorized in Pennsylvania in 1997 – to serve as models of innovation and to save taxpayers money,” Roebuck said. “Unfortunately, one of the major charter school bills now pending, Senate Bill 1085, would strip that vital requirement out of the law.”

The report also outlines legislation Roebuck plans to introduce soon that would address concerns about lease overpayments to charter schools. Since December 2012, audits by the Office of Auditor General found that the Department of Education approved and paid $1.8 million in questionable lease reimbursements to seven charter schools. Questions center on whether those reimbursements are allowed under the Public School Code and PDE guidelines, specifically that state lease reimbursements to charter schools are banned for facilities owned by people or entities related to the school.

“I am particularly concerned that the state Department of Education has taken no corrective action to date regarding these $1.8 million in potential overpayments. In fact, it appears the last time the department addressed a charter school lease issue related to property ownership was 2009-10, when a charter school in Philadelphia was required to repay $225,000,” Roebuck said. “This is especially urgent since those funds come from the same budget line item that would normally fund the backlog of state payments for over 203 already approved school construction and renovation projects around the state.”

“Local school districts and their taxpayers across Pennsylvania still waiting for state reimbursement for over 203 already approved school construction and renovation projects may be surprised to learn that unlike those payments, the state’s lease payments to charter schools cannot be delayed. As the auditor general noted in March 2013, ‘if the improper lease reimbursement problem is more widespread among the state’s 157 brick-and-mortar charter schools, it could be siphoning off millions of dollars away from other education priorities,'” Roebuck said.

Roebuck’s new bill would make clear that a person who serves as a founder, a board of trustee or an administrator of a charter school, as well as an administrator or executive of the educational management service provider of a charter school, could not receive any payments for approved reimbursable annual rental for leases of buildings or portions of buildings for charter school use.

It would also require any charter school’s application for lease reimbursement to include a copy of the signed lease agreement for the building and a copy of the deed for the building. This is a requirement the Department of Education had in place in the 2009-10 school year.

Finally, Roebuck’s bill would require the Department of Education to seek full repayment from any charter school that received inappropriate lease reimbursements.

“With millions of dollars in state tax money at issue, this must be addressed in any charter school legislation that passes both the House and Senate this year – and not with a study, but with requirements that have teeth in them,” Roebuck said.




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