School Funding: What One Hand Gives Another Takes Away

Marc Stier |

As this dispiriting budget season ends, advocates for education could at least be grateful that the General Assembly seems poised to increase basic education funding by $200 million. This is far less than the $400 million necessary to put us on a path towards overcoming massive cuts and the most unequal education funding in the state. And it does little more than help school districts keep up with costs. But at a time when so many legislators are unwilling to find the revenues to invest in anything, it is better than nothing.

Yet, at least as Philadelphia is concerned, it will all be for nothing if HB530 passes in its current form. That bill would undermine the ability of the School District of Philadelphia to control the growth of charter schools. Yet, under the present rules, every charter school enrollment disproportionately reduces the funds available in district schools. The result will be that much, if not all, of the new funding for basic education in Philadelphia will be eaten up by payments to charter schools. Students in district schools will never see the benefit of new basic funding.

Other school distrits around the state may suffer in a similar way from unlimited charter expansion.

Aside from the funding issue, HB530 is an entirely unwarranted intervention in the governance of the Philadelphia School District and other school districts. Charters schools may sometimes improve education and may sometimes not do so. The decision about how, when, and where to expand them should be made by those who have the information and expertise to do so in ways that improve education. It is entirely inappropriate for the General Assembly, acting on an ideological commitment to charters schools at all costs — a commitment that has no basis in the research on good education — to override the decision of school districts around the state.

HB530 does bring much needed reform to cyber charter payments and has other helpful elements as well. But the harm that it does far outweights the good. It would be a shame if one hand of the legislature undoes the good that another hand has done.