(D-Pennsylvania's 22nd House District) is trying to make the most out of his brief time in office.
Schmotzer, a former Baldwin-Whitehall School Board member who lives in , will represent all of and part of Whitehall in the state House of Representatives through the end of 2012, but he's hoping to help pass legislation that will live on into 2013 and beyond.
Schmotzer is welcoming a new charter and cyber charter school reform bill—introduced by Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon/Blair/Mifflin counties)—while also laying out four principles that Schmotzer believes must be in any bill to reform those schools.
"It's only fair to taxpayers for all schools to play by the same rules," Schmotzer said in a news release, "especially at a time when public schools are still coping with last year's $1 billion in state education funding cuts, and local property taxpayers want to avoid another round of trickle-down tax hikes."
The new bill (H.B. 2364), which can be read in its entirety here, prevents charter school operators from using public school dollars to contract lobbyists, provides for an annual audit of charter schools, caps reimbursements to charter schools at the same level that school districts receive reimbursements from the state, and more.
"Charter and cyber charter are public schools, and they're here to stay," Fleck said during the conference. "However, I think it's time we have a thorough examination of how they operate. Charters are a different model of public education—no doubt. Nevertheless, we simply cannot hold them to an entirely different standard of accountability.
"They are not the 'sacred cow.'"
Said Schmotzer in a release, "These reforms should take effect starting with the 2012-13 school year, not be delayed a year as some Republicans are calling for. We can provide this relief immediately to school districts and their taxpayers. These reforms would provide at least $45.8 million in savings for the coming school year and probably much more than that.
"In addition to the direct fiscal reforms, I am pleased the bill keeps local control over charter school approval, unlike competing legislation that would strip that authority from locally elected boards and place it in the hands of bureaucrats in Harrisburg."
Schmotzer said that any bill to reform the financing of charter and cyber charter schools should address these four key areas, according to a release:
- Limiting unassigned fund balances for charter and cyber charter schools consistent with the limits already in effect for traditional public schools. In 2010, the auditor general reported that charter schools had $108 million in reserve funds. Nearly half of charter schools had a cumulative reserve fund balance above traditional public schools' limit of 12 percent of their annual spending. The charter school balances ranged as high as 95 percent.
- Removing the "double dip" for pension costs by charter and cyber charter schools. Presently, a school district's cost for retirement expenditures is not subtracted from expenditures in the tuition calculation that determines funding for charters. This sets up a "double dip" since state law guarantees charter schools reimbursement for their retirement costs. The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials estimates that between 2011-12 and 2016-17, eliminating the "double dip" would save school districts $510 million, including $45.8 million in savings for 2012-13.
- Limiting the amount of special education funding that a charter or cyber charter school receives per student to its school district's total per-pupil spending for special education services. The state funding formula's 16-percent cap on school district special education population does not apply to charter schools. An official of Bensalem High School in Bucks County testified last year that this results in paying $3,425 more per charter school special education student than Bensalem is paying for its own special education students.
- Requiring year-end audits by the state Department of Education to determine the actual costs of education services of charter and cyber charter schools, followed by an annual year-end final reconciliation process of tuition payments from school districts against those actual costs. Any overpayments would be returned to the charter schools' school districts. In the 2010-11 school year, non-special education tuition rates per student ranged from $4,478 to $16,915.
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