State budget stalemate affecting school district payments to charters

Some local charter school administrators said frustration hit a max with the state budget impasse that is leading some Centre County public school districts to withhold and/or delay payments to the charters.

And it forced some charter schools statewide to request payments from the state.

According to a report from the Senate, some charter schools sought gaming tax relief funds since their “normal funding stream” was unavailable.

About $45 million was expected to be distributed Thursday, but was canceled late Wednesday after a group of Democratic senators asked the treasurer to delay making payments to charter schools until the budget impasse is resolved and all schools have funding in place, said Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vincent Hughes.

But some Centre County charter school administrators said they haven’t been in talks with the state regarding funding, though they might start by the end of the year if the state budget isn’t passed.

“We haven’t requested it yet,” said Kosta Dussias, Centre Learning Community Charter School business manager and CEO. “We can operate about two more months until we’ll start looking at the state and at loans.”

By law, public charter schools are able to secure money through the state from any state fund that also supports a school district. Charter schools can request this money when districts shirk their legal obligations to pay charters on a monthly basis, the code said.

A report from the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools said while members understand “the financial challenges districts are facing during the state budget impasse, many charter schools are in a more dire position because their two sources of funding have been cut off since July.”

“It is completely within a public charter school’s legal authority — granted by the state legislature — to access funding that is rightfully owed to it when school districts deliberately and proactively decide to ignore their statutory obligation,” said Executive Director Tim Eller in a prepared statement.

CLC — the Ferguson Township-based charter school — has a 2015-16 budget of $1.376 million, which is funded by school districts.

Districts pay charters a per pupil rate for each student from their district who attends the school.

This year, CLC has 98 students in fifth to eighth grades from 10 public school districts.

Dussias said Penns Valley Area is the only district delaying payments to CLC, while State College Area is the only district withholding payments to the school.

“There are no talks,” Dussias said. “They tell us that’s how it’s going to be and it’s one-way dialogue.”

Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania Charter School is in a similar situation.

School CEO Levent Kaya said State College Area agreed to pay all but 18 percent of what it owes until state funding becomes available.

The decision to withhold payments to the charters came during a State College Area school board meeting in August.

“The board approved the resolution to withhold a portion of the charter school tuition payments resulting from the district not receiving funding from the state, due to the state budget not being passed,” said business manager Randy Brown. “Since the district is not receiving state funding, the district is withholding the state portion of funding from tuition payments to charter schools.”

Brown said an alternative option would have been using an increased share of local funds to support the charter school tuition payments.

State College Area budgeted $5.4 million this school year for charter school payments.

Brown said the district funds 387 students to attend four charter schools.

Charter school administration said they’re understanding, but aggravated.

“We understand the position of the school district and we’re trying to be sympathetic to their financial situations, but most school districts around us have healthy reserves to fund us despite the budget crisis,” Dussias said.

State College Area school board President Amber Concepcion said the board resolution calls for f ull payment of tuition to be made to the charter schools once the state passes a budget, and state funding is distributed to the district.