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State to blame for perennial fight over charter renewal

The state Legislature and Pennsylvania’s chief executive officer are really to blame for opening the ring to the now 20-year-old boxing match between the Keystone Central School Board and Sugar Valley Rural Charter School.

When the state, under then-Gov. Tom Ridge, opened the door to state-funded charter schools to give parents another choice for public education, it set up a protocol for a charter it would initially approve but then turn over to the local or host school district for renewal — or denial — every five years.

The result here has been repeated denials of the charter renewal by the Keystone Central board and, sadly, a lot of animosity that has been detrimental to the job of educating our children and youth.

The state Charter Schools Appeal Board has struck KCSB’s opposition to charter renewal every time.

For the record, we’re not suggesting the charter school should be abolished. It has proven to be an effective educational environment for many students. Its enrollment has risen; SVRCS has 492 students, most of them from Keystone but also from Jersey Shore and Penns Valley.

Charter schools are, by law, public schools in Pennsylvania and receive funding for students from a student’s resident district.

But the state Legislature needs to change how the charter school gets its funding.

Why does it go through the host public school?

Why does it have to?

Why are members of public school district boards asked to vote for spending taxpayer funds to charter schools over which they have no say?

Indeed, we believe the denials of the charter renewal stem primarily from the fact that host public school boards have no say over charter schools yet they’re asked to approve millions of taxpayer dollars for the charter school.

That serves only to cause resentment and a perennial assault on education … no matter where a student is taught.

Moreover, the charter school should be held to more strict money controls.

So far as we can tell, it is not.

The charter school should not be allowed to have an “overall fund balance” — let’s call it what it is: a surplus — of $6.3 million.

The state should limit any surpluses, with large “fund balances” being pared to reduce the burden on property taxpayers who help fund the charter and public schools in the first place.

School districts complain that the bills to educate resident students who choose to attend a charter school are one of the largest expenses in their budgets.

According to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, 37 cents of every new dollar that districts raised from property taxes in 2017-18 went to charter schools.

There are various proposals in Harrisburg to amend the state charter school law. And so we ask: When will this spectacle end so we can ALL get on with the important job of educating our children and youth in a positive, constructive and collaborative environment?

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