The Pennsylvania Senate has adopted a pending special education bill amendment that many say will forestall a potential collapse of brick and mortar charter schools in the state.
Avon Grove Charter Head of School Kevin Brady said on June 18 – the evening of the charter’s graduation – “(Senate Majority Leader) Pileggi added an amendment that will give us at least a year’s relief.”
In the past several months, Brady and other brick-and-mortar charter leaders have campaigned to prevent the passage of a bill that is still pending in both houses because it would severely cut their funding.
The original bill, Senate 1316 (and a matching bill 2138 in the House of Representatives) defines three levels of disability of special education students and ties the amount of funding to the students’ respective needs in all the public schools.
A provision that is troublesome to charter school advocates is that in those schools, the new funding would be applied only to direct special education costs rather than the overall costs, which they receive now. In the traditional district schools the previous funding would still be applied and the three-tiered allocations would only apply to new monies.
On June 17, the Senate adopted Pileggi’s amendment that “holds harmless” the charter schools and gives them a venue for appeals. It means that the charter schools would continue to receive what was paid to them last school year combined with the new system that applies only to additional students added above the 2013-14 enrollment rates.
A statement issued recently by the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools asserted that passage of the original bill would be devastating to charters. “Special education students in charter schools would receive 30 to 60 percent less than the same students in traditional schools.” It demands that the new formula be applied only to new funding, like the traditional schools. That, the statement said, would be “equitable funding” for all public schools.
The original House of Representatives bill is still alive as of the past weekend, as is the amended Senate bill. But neither State Rep. John Lawrence, R-13th, of Franklin nor State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-19th, of West Whiteland has seen any action in these last days of the legislature before its summer recess.
As of Friday, Lawrence said the House was very busy working on the state budget, and he did not see 2138 scheduled for the day.
Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Pileggi, said he could state on the record, “Discussions on Senate Bill 1316 are continuing. At this point, it’s not clear whether or not it will be in a position for a vote this month.”
Dinniman, who is the minority head of the Senate Education Committee, said there are three possibilities on the fate of the bills.
The first is that nothing will change from previous years if the bills do not come up for a vote before the close of the session, which will probably be this week.
The second is that the bills could be passed in both the Senate and the House before the recess, but since the Senate bill has the amendment, and they are different, it would have to go to a conference committee for consensus between the two boards, which would take some time.
The third possibility is that it is not acted on now, but is taken up when the legislature meets in the fall for a shortened session before the election.
“It could be considered in the fall,” he said. However, he added that as of Nov. 31, 2014, all bills die and must be re-introduced for action.
“I doubt it will be reconsidered before we leave for the summer,” he added.
Dinniman went on to say that he is happy with the proposed three-tier system for tying level of disability to funding levels. He is not clear, however, if it should be equally applied to cyber charter schools, where students stay online within their homes.
“When we get to cyber schools, you have another question. I certainly haven’t heard how it is applied to the higher level of disabled students. How do you reach out to certain individuals if you are not there?” he said.