Charter funding imbalance must be fixed early in 2013
The state Legislature has finished its two-year session without reforming the state and school pension systems - the single largest financial issue facing the state government and 500 local school districts.
In the process, lawmakers allowed to continue a particularly egregious aspect of the state's pension mess: double-dipping by public charter schools.
Each local school district pays tuition to charter schools based on its own cost per student, regardless of the actual costs incurred by the charter school. According to Auditor General Jack Wagner, the range is from $6,700 per student in a Schuylkill County district to $16,900 in a Montgomery County District.
Included in each district's cost-per-student calculation is the amount it must pay each year for its own teachers' pensions.
The charter schools receive that local money and then receive a payment from the state to cover the charter schools' contributions to their teachers' pensions.
This double-dipping is not small change. According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, eliminating pension contributions from the local districts' tuition formula for charter schools would save local taxpayers $500 million by the 2016-17 school year.
Yet lawmakers left that unwarranted money in charter schools' pockets as they left Harrisburg until January. State Rep. Kurt Masser noted his disappointment in the Legislature's failure to address the issue, and expects it to be a priority early next year.
That needs to be the case, as public school officials will have their hands full again next year balancing their budgets, and are fed up with the excessive payout to charter schools.