Bethlehem, Pa. (WLVT) - According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, a school district's special education funding is based on student need. However, that is not the case for public charter schools that receive special education tuition payments from school districts. Critics of the state funding system say charter schools receive more money than is needed for special education student instruction.
At an August news conference with Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera, Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Joseph Roy described this funding structure as resulting in "overpayments."
He said state data shows, on average, charter schools that took in Bethlehem area students in 2017 spent about $9,000 per special education student. But the Bethlehem Area School District paid charter schools nearly $23,000 per special education student that year.
William Hartman, a professor emeritus at Penn State University, authored a report for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a legislative agency of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, that examined special education enrollments and expenditures in Pennsylvania over a 10-year period.
In an interview with PBS39 News Tonight, Hartman said, "There is a substantial excess of charter school tuition payments for special education students beyond what (charters) are spending for those students."
But charter schools disagree.
Robert Lysek, president of the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools and the CEO of Executive Education Academy Charter School in Allentown, said the data Roy and Hartman are pointing to is skewed and does not fully reflect all of the dollars charters spend on special education instruction.
"I don't know of a formula that would account for all of our dollars towards special ed but it goes beyond just the instructors or the related services or the support personnel that support special education students," said Lysek. He added, "it should include the mainstream educators and other expenses in the building because we believe here at Executive in the mainstream model."
Roy and Wolf said reforms are needed at the state level to remedy funding inequities. Bethlehem Area School District will spend about $8 million in special education payments to charter schools this year; Allentown will pay nearly $16 million, according to the school districts.