Protecting An Investment
By State Reps. Joe Emrick, 137th District
and Mike Reese, 59th District

Members of the General Assembly are charged with being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. It is our responsibility to treat this money as an investment by doing all we can to ensure the highest possible “return.” One of the greatest investments we make is in education. Our students are our future and the manner in which we invest in them will significantly impact Pennsylvania’s next generation.

Parents also make an investment in education when they decide to send their child to a charter or cyber charter school. Both institutions are held accountable to Pennsylvania taxpayers, as charter schools must be approved by local school districts, while cyber charter schools face approval by the state Department of Education.

Last September, a bipartisan vote passed House Bill 618, which addresses the investment in charter school education as well as the double dip on pensions that currently benefits cyber charter schools. We urge our Senate colleagues to take up this legislation and send it to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk for his signature.

House Bill 618 would create a matrix to measure and assess the academic performance of charter and cyber charter schools and require all initial and renewal charter and cyber charter school applicants to establish a teacher evaluation system. As an incentive to achieving those academic benchmarks, House Bill 618 would offer high-performing schools a 10-year renewal term on top of their initial term of five years.

Under this legislation, a balanced, bipartisan Charter School Funding Advisory Commission would be created to address inequities in the formula that determine funding for charter and cyber charter schools and make appropriate recommendations to the General Assembly and the governor by March 30, 2014. The commission, which is comprised of parents, teachers, administrators and legislators, would meet with stakeholders and examine the true cost of educating a child in a cyber charter school setting.

House Bill 618 would facilitate direct payment to charter and cyber charter schools from the Department of Education, with appropriate documentation of student enrollment and residency.

Most Pennsylvania taxpayers will be shocked to learn cyber charter schools are profiting from repayment of their pension costs. They receive 100 percent reimbursement of those costs from local school districts AND 50 percent from the Commonwealth. House Bill 618 would end this overpayment of pension costs, or the “pension double dip.” As a result, school districts statewide would retain approximately $84 million over two years.

Limits would also be placed on the reserves charter or cyber charter schools are able to hold, with any excess over the established limit being returned to school districts that paid tuition to the charter school. These limits are similar to those placed on school districts. This aspect of the bill, coupled with elimination of the pension overpayment, is estimated to save Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts approximately $150 million.

That may not seem like much inside a budget measured in billions; however, allowing a local school district to keep a statewide average of $300,000 per district is measured in teaching jobs retained and educational programs maintained.

House Bill 618 is a long-overdue piece of legislation that reinforces and, in some cases, inserts accountability, ethics, integrity and performance measures into a system hit hard by recent scandal and subsequent federal indictments. It would reform Pennsylvania’s 16-year-old Charter School Law, improve education options for students and parents, and offer financial savings for school districts and, in turn, Commonwealth taxpayers.

We as Pennsylvanians have a constitutional obligation to educate our students. We as legislators take an oath to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. In House Bill 618, we satisfy both of those objectives for a better Pennsylvania.

Representative Joe Emrick
137th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Scott Little
717.260.6137 /
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