(Sep 30) ‘Wild West’ charter school spending, lack of openness spotlighted in Roebuck report

Reining in overpayments could help resolve state budget impasse

State Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila., today released a report on Pennsylvania charter schools that spotlights what he called the “Wild West” spending or borrowing practices of some, as well as a general lack of openness from the tax-funded, privately run schools.

“For example, as a news report disclosed recently, charter schools in Philadelphia alone have racked up nearly $500 million in debt, often at rates of 8 or 8 1/2 percent. Taxpayers ultimately fund all of it, including millions of dollars in consulting and legal fees and questionable building costs,” said Roebuck, Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee.

House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said: “Reining in charter school overspending and overpayments could help resolve the state budget impasse. Every dollar freed up this way is a dollar that can restore education cuts; every dollar freed up this way is a dollar that doesn’t have to come from taxes. I think this is something both Republicans and Democrats should be able to support.”

Roebuck said: “Governor Tom Wolf has proposed $160 million in savings from reforming cyber charter school payments. We should build on that by making strong reforms to brick-and-mortar charter schools as well.

“I continue to be troubled by the lack of openness for many of these tax-funded schools. Requiring more transparency could have prevented many of the problems spotlighted in this report and by news stories in recent years. The previous director of the state Office of Open Records called charter schools ‘a cancer on the otherwise healthy right-to-know law,’ and the Open Records office reported receiving 239 appeals in cases in which charter schools either rejected or failed to answer taxpayer right-to-know requests.

“As I’ve said before and highlight in this new report, some charter schools are high-performing, but we shouldn’t be overpaying, even for those. And we need openness to help make sure we don’t overpay.”

Full story and report: ‘Wild West’ charter school spending, lack of openness spotlighted in Roebuck report, Rep. James R. Roebuck Jr., 09/30/15

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