by Christen Smith in Capitolwire
HARRISBURG – Charter school leaders from across the state and their legislative supporters on Tuesday attempted to turn the school choice debate toward facilities funding reform.
“The construction and maintenance of facilities is an issue that every school struggles with, both traditional public and charter schools,” Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, said during the state Capitol press conference. “The enactment of the 2015-16 Fiscal Code provides school districts with much needed relief for construction reimbursement, but our charter schools are still suffering from an antiquated and unfair facilities funding system.”
PennCAN, a nonprofit education reform group, issued a report Tuesday that found charter schools must stretch instructional dollars to cover the cost of facility rentals, maintenance, renovation, purchase or construction. Unlike school districts, however, charters can’t access state reimbursement programs — like PlanCon or the Pennsylvania State Intercept Program for School Districts — to make up for this additional spending.
Traditional borrowing for charters can also be more expensive because lenders find the five-year renewal term a much riskier investment. Add in the fact that charters receive 32 percent less per-student than a traditional public school would and the state has what PennCAN calls a “resource gap.”
“Pennsylvania made significant progress for all public school students when it recently adopted a weighted student funding formula,” said Jonathan Cetel, executive director of PennCAN. “But it’s now time to close the resource gap between traditional public and charter schools by implementing policies that make it easier for charter schools to rent, purchase or maintain their buildings.”
PennCAN, the Pennsylvania Coalition for Public Charter Schools and Philadelphia Charter Schools for Excellence all joined Grove Tuesday in calling for expanded facilities funding for charters. Their policy recommendations include:
• strengthening per-student facilities funding for charters
• allow charter schools access to the Pennsylvania State Intercept Program for School Districts
• create a capital grant program and/or revolving loan fund
• provide charter schools access to district facilities
• renew charter school terms for more than five years
Grove, the architect of the 2.5 billion PlanCon bond strategy and program overhaul found within the Fiscal Code, said he hopes the General Assembly will act on charter school reform this year.
“There shouldn’t be a war between schools,” he said. “They should work in unison and focus on the student.”