Recently, Republicans in Pennsylvania lambasted public schools for wasting money by setting up reserve funds for a rainy day. Meanwhile the State throws away hundreds of millions every year to pay for low-performing, unaccountable, profitable cyber charters.

Two Democratic legislators—Rep. Ismail “Izzy” Smith-Wade-El and Rep. Mike Sturla—wrote a rebuttal to the Republicans:

Republicans have criticized 12 school districts — including the School District of Lancaster, Penn Manor and Hempfield — for following normal procedures by making sure their general funds are healthy and able to support the many projects and upgrades all districts must contend with, especially in these difficult times.

The attack was inspired by an audit conducted by Pennsylvania Auditor General Timothy DeFoor….

In an interview with WITF, Auditor DeFoor questioned the need for school districts to maintain reserves at all, stating, “As far as putting money away for a rainy day, that’s great for a private individual such as ourselves, but not necessarily for a governmental entity.”

To embrace this view would be highly irresponsible. Fund balances are not recurring, so it would be inappropriate to use them for recurring expenses like salaries. This would lead many school districts to quickly go into the red. Additionally, any school district chief financial officer would attest to how one-time expenses come up all the time — and school districts must always be prepared for the worst. To suggest that districts should only be able to raise taxes if they have no fund balance goes against any solid financial principles.

The commonwealth itself, with the assistance of the GOP, recently added money into its rainy day fund, which at nearly $5 billion is the largest in state history. To turn around and criticize our local schools for saving for rainy days is simply hypocritical…

Currently, 447 out of 500 school districts have signed a resolution demanding commonsense charter school funding reform to ease some of the burden, yet none of the proposed bills to address the situation were ever brought up for a vote in the last legislative session when our colleagues across the aisle controlled the state House.

In the 2020-21 school year, Pennsylvanians spent more than $1 billion on students enrolled in cybercharter schools.

Tuition for an independent cybercharter is considerably higher than for an online education program offered by a school district. And these cybercharter schools charge highly inflated tuition rates for students who have special needs — allowing them to profit from students with disabilities at the cost of local taxpayers. What are these cybercharter companies doing with that extra taxpayer money? Research suggests that the money is spent on advertising, executive salaries, other administrative costs — and, according to Research for Action, a Philadelphia-based education research group, carrying high fund balances. This all comes at the expense of our friends and neighbors struggling to afford their homes. This is wrong.

We encourage our fellow state House members to join us in fighting for more accountability from our state’s charter and cybercharter schools by ensuring that there is a single statewide tuition rate for regular and special education students that matches tuition to the actual costs of educating students at home on a computer. We need to ensure that cyberschools — which do not have the same operating costs of our local brick-and-mortar public schools — are especially held accountable when it comes to matching tuition fees with the actual cost of educating their students.