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HARRISBURG, PA (June 15, 2021) – The Pennsylvania Senate is expected to vote tomorrow on a bill sponsored by Sen. Scott Martin that would divert huge amounts of taxpayer dollars from the state’s public schools every year to spend on private school programs and tax breaks for businesses.
The Senate Education Committee amended the bill today to make changes to cyber charter school tuition rates paid by public school districts. Over three years, the amended bill would reduce cyber charter tuition costs for regular and special education by $111 million, while Gov. Wolf’s charter reform plan would reduce cyber charter tuition costs for regular education alone by $417 million, according to calculations from the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.
PSEA President Rich Askey issued the following statement on Senate Bill 1:
“While Sen. Scott Martin’s bill masquerades as charter reform, it really amounts to the largest transfer of taxpayer dollars out of public schools in Pennsylvania’s history — and just about the worst attack on public education we’ve ever seen.
“This bill will provide a massive increase in tax breaks for corporations that contribute to private and religious schools. While public schools are lucky to get a funding increase on the order of 2% to 3% in any given year, this bill will give these tax break programs a whopping 67% increase next year and provide 25% increases each year after. Within five years, these tax break programs will grow to nearly $1 billion.
“As Pennsylvania’s educators struggle to teach and serve students coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the worst possible time to take such a large amount of state funds from public schools, where nine in 10 Pennsylvania students are educated.
“We’re happy that Senate Education Committee members voted today to remove language that would have taken authority to approve charter schools from local school boards and added an amendment to reduce school district payments to cyber charter schools. Unfortunately, the reduction in cyber charter school payments in this bill is a far cry from meaningful charter reform.
“Sen. Martin’s bill will barely put a dent in what districts pay charter and cyber charter schools. Over the next three years, it amounts to about 25 cents on the dollar of cyber charter tuition reductions in Gov. Wolf’s reform plan, which has gained the support of a large number of public school communities.
“Each year, the median regular education tuition rate grows by $400, and the median special education tuition rate grows by $1,200. In just a few short years, school districts will be back to where they started. Pennsylvania needs a cyber charter tuition rate that is fair, responsible, and matches the real costs of educating students.
“We encourage all state senators to oppose Sen. Martin’s bill. We need to focus on the needs of students rather than taking away needed resources from our public schools.”
Askey is a Harrisburg music teacher and the president of PSEA. An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 178,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.