For the past few years, the impoverished Chester County public schools in Pennsylvania have been in deep deficit because of competition with charter schools and cyber charters that suck funding away from the public schools.
The biggest charter school is the Chester Community Charter School, founded and operated by multimillionaire Vehan Gureghian, a lawyer and businessman who was a major contributor to former Republican Governor Tom Corbett and a member of his education transition team.
Governor Tom Wolf tried to save the public schools of Delaware County by reducing the exorbitant amount of special education funding that is transferred from the public schools to charter schools and reducing the equally egregious funding of cyber schools. But his plan was rejected by a judge yesterday.
The Keystone State Education Coalition posted these articles this morning, which explain the situation:
“The district pays local charter schools about $64 million in tuition payments – more than it gets in state aid – to educate about half of its 7,000 students.”
Judge rejects Wolf challenge to charter funding
MARI A. SCHAEFER AND CAITLIN MCCABE, INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS POSTED: Tuesday, August 25, 2015, 9:41 PM
A Delaware County judge ruled Tuesday that the Chester Upland School District must abide by the state’s charter school funding formula and keep paying the charter schools that now educate about half of the struggling district’s students. After a hearing that stretched two days, Common Pleas Judge Chad Kenney said the commonwealth’s plan was “wholly inadequate” to restore the district to financial stability. He also faulted the state and district’s lawyers for failing to provide “meaningful specifics or details” as to how they arrived at the plan. Kenney did approve two smaller requests: He said the district can hire a turnaround specialist and a forensic auditor.
The ruling was a setback for the Wolf administration and the district’s state appointed receiver, Frances Barnes, who had contended Chester Upland schools might not be able to open next week without a change to the formula. It was not clear if they would seek to appeal Kenney’s ruling.
Judge derails Pa. plan for Chester Upland recovery
By Vince Sullivan, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 08/25/15, 10:33 PM EDT
CHESTER >> Just minutes after a public meeting with the receiver of the Chester Upland School District ended with an impassioned plea for support of the public school system, a Delaware County judge denied proposals to alter charter school funding which would have eliminated a $22 million structural deficit. President Judge Chad F. Kenney denied portions of a plan proposed by Receiver Francis V. Barnes, with the support of Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Department of Education, that sought to reduce payments to charter and cyber charter schools that educate Chester Upland School District. Barnes was seeking to cap the regular education tuition reimbursement for cyber charter students at $5,950, and to reduce the tuition reimbursement for special education students in brick-and-mortar charter schools from $40,000 to $16,000. Both changes would have been consistent with the recommendations of two bipartisan school funding commissions. Other portion of the plan calling for a forensic audit, a financial turnaround specialist and the delay of a loan repayment were approved.
Chester Upland charters struggle to account for $40,000 price tag for special education
WHYY Newsworks BY LAURA BENSHOFF AUGUST 25, 2015
In court Tuesday, charter schools in the Chester Upland district defended their claim to $40,000 in tuition for each special-education student they enroll. According to Pennsylvania’s calculations, the charters need — and, in fact, currently spend — well below that on those students.
The debate about how much money charters need to fulfill federal requirements for a “free appropriate public education” for special-education students is at the heart of reforms proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf and the district’s receiver, Francis Barnes, last week. And it’s at the center of a battle in Delaware County court this week between state and charter school officials.
Witnesses for the state Department of Education said Tuesday that none of the schools claimed spending more than $25,000 per special-education student in annual self-reports.
So what exactly is in that Chester Upland Charter Special Sauce?
Here’s the bottom line on Chester Upland charter school special education funding. Would this have been allowed to go on for years if charter schools were “public” in more than name only and were subject to taxpayer scrutiny on a regular basis?
Right-to-know requests for financial information regarding the operations of Charter School Management Company have been blatantly ignored for years.
“Let’s look at Chester Upland’s special education enrollment, while considering that, in general, special education students diagnosed with autism, emotional disturbance and intellectual disability require the highest expenditures, while those with speech and language impairments require the lowest expenditures.
Special education students on the autism spectrum – generally requiring high expenditures – make up 8.4 percent of the entire special education population at the school district, compared to 2.1 percent at Chester Community Charter School and zero percent at Widener Partnership and Chester Community Schoolof the Arts.
In the emotional disturbance category, another often requiring high expenditures, 13.6 percent of all special education students are categorized as emotionally disturbed in the school district, compared to 5.3 percent at Chester Community Charter, none at Widener or Chester Community School of the Arts.
For the intellectual disability category, the final category generally requiring high expenditures, the school district again serves a much larger percentage of this category: 11.6 percent for the school district, 2.8 for Chester Community Charter School and none for the others.
Conversely, for special education students requiring the lowest expenditures, the speech and language impaired, only 2.4 percent of the school district’s special education population falls into this category, compared to 27.4, 20.3 and 29.8 percent, respectively, at the charters.
Clearly the lion’s share of the need requiring the highest expenditures remains with the school district, but an exorbitant amount of funding goes to charters, where most special education needs can be addressed for comparatively low cost.”
Guest Column: The case for the Wolf recovery plan
Delco Times Letter by Frances Barnes POSTED: 08/24/15, 10:24 PM EDT
To the Times:
This is an open letter from Chester Upland School District Receiver Francis V. Barnes.
This afternoon (Aug. 24), Chester Upland School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education will appear before President Judge Chad Kenney seeking approval of an amended Financial Recovery Plan to restore financial integrity and balance the books, which is vital for the district and the charter schools it funds. The plan treats charters fairly by not reducing payments made for about 70 percent of charter students, but it does reduce unreasonable special education and cyber payments to charter schools. Reducing unreasonable payments will make the allocation of funds more equitable for all students in the Chester, Chester Township, and theUpland geographical area, regardless of which school they attend. Under the current formula, funds for special education students are not allocated equitably. The district is required to pay charter schools more than $40,000 per special education student, regardless of the actual cost to educate that student, while the district receives less than needed to educate its own special education students.
Here’s Dan Hardy’s coverage of the same issue from 2012:
Chester Upland: State special ed formula drains millions from district
By Dan Hardy, Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED: FEBRUARY 06, 2012
As Delaware County’s financially troubled Chester Upland School District struggles to stay afloat, officials there say they are paying millions more than they should on special-education students who attend charter schools.
School districts pay charters to teach their children, using a complicated formula set by state law. About 45 percent of Chester Upland’s students attend charters.
Chester Upland’s payments are based on the previous year’s expense of educating students in its own schools, minus some costs charters do not incur.
For regular-education Chester Upland students this year, that figure is $9,858 per child.
But flaws in the state charter-school law, district officials say, make payments to charter schools for special-education students much higher, costing Chester Upland about $8 million more than is reasonable.
Chester Upland’s per-student special-education charter-school payment this year is $24,528, more than twice as much as for regular students and thousands per student more than the state average.