This article was published a year ago. It remains timely. It tells the story of the charter schools (one in particular) that bankrupted one of Pennsylvania’s poorest school districts.

While the public schools have been bankrupted and taken over by a receiver, the owner of the biggest charter became very rich selling goods and services to his charter corporation. He is active in Republican politics. He was on Governor Tom Corbett’s transition team for education. Governor Wolf has approached him with care. His charter has fattened on special education payments, which were $40,000 per student, even for those with the mildest speech disabilities, leaving the most disabled students to the bankrupt public schools.

Governor Wolf was able to negotiate a lowering of the special education payment to $27,000.

To put some noteworthy flaws of Pennsylvania’s charter law in stark relief, one need look no further than the Chester-Upland School District, a desperately poor enclave in generally well-off Delaware County.

As the state’s most distressed district, it is so unable to meet its students’ needs that it is under the control of a receiver.

Nearly half of the students in Chester Upland attend charter schools, and 46 percent of its budget goes to charter payments. Most charter students there are enrolled in the Chester Community Charter School (CCCS). The K-8 school has 2,900 students, nearly as many as the 3,300 K-12 students in the district. The state’s largest brick-and-mortar charter by far, CCCS was founded and is operated for profit by a company owned by businessman Vahan Gureghian, a major supporter of former Gov. Tom Corbett and other Republican candidates and causes.

CCCS and its management company, Charter School Management Inc., have built a reputation for taking maximum advantage of the financial opportunities built into the charter school law, while strenuously resisting any public scrutiny about where that money goes.

Until court-sanctioned action that lowered payments this year, the state’s special-education funding formula required Chester-Upland to send its charters more than $40,000 for every special education student. How much of that actually went to student services is not known, in part because the charter law does not require CCCS or any other charter to make that information public.

What is known, however, is that CCCS spends a healthy chunk of its budget on fees paid to Gureghian’s management company. Gureghian won’t open his books, but about 10 years ago, the school spent an estimated 40 percent of its revenue on management, as opposed to the state average for charters of about 16 percent.

What is also known is that the Chester Upland district’s payments to CCCS for special education have a profound effect on the district’s budget. “Unfair and excessive special education payments are bankrupting the District,” wrote Chester Upland officials in their recent recovery plan. Last summer, Gov. Wolf asked a judge to intervene and bring special education payments more in line with special education expenses.

A hallmark of the CCCS approach is that the school identifies large numbers of students as needing special education, usually in relatively low-cost categories.

For instance, in the 2014-15 school year, more than 27 percent of the special education students were classified as having a “speech and language impairment,” the least expensive classification of disability, which generally requires speech therapy once or twice a week. That is close to twice the state rate of 15.4 percent and more than 11 times the Chester Upland district rate of 2.4 percent for that category.

When the state tried to adjust the formula for special education reimbursements to reflect the level of student needs, charter lobbyists descended to fight it. And nothing changed.

By the way, the owner of the Chester Community Charter School has his mansion in Palm Beach for sale. He dropped the price last May by $5 million. You can pick it up for a mere $64.9 million. Quite the steal, never lived in.

For some reason, the Chester Community Charter School has a high rate of “safety incidents” and suspensions, more than any other school in Delaware County.