Conditional Renewal of SCSC Charter - Dec. 19, 2019

At the December 19th, 2019 School Board meeting, the Souderton Area School Board of Directors granted conditional approval for renewal of the charter for the Souderton Charter School Collaborative (SCSC) for the next five years. The Board takes seriously its oversight of the SCSC, and has placed two conditions on the charter due to significant concerns related to the charter school’s compliance with Pennsylvania school law. 

It is our duty and obligation under law to review and either renew or reject SCSC’s charter, as we have done every five years since 2000 when the school opened. This renewal will allow the SCSC to continue operation, however this Board cannot ignore the school’s failure to comply with statutes.  SCSC and other charters promote themselves as public schools, but are, in the ways described below, permitted to function like private schools. 

While our district does not seek to limit the school choice of families, we strongly object to the fact that the state’s charter schools, which are publicly funded, are not required to operate under the same set of rules and laws as public schools. The inequities are unacceptable and extremely unfair to our taxpayers and to our school system.

The first condition placed on the SCSC charter renewal relates to teacher certifications. We are proud that 100% of SASD teachers are fully certified.  Unfortunately, charter school teachers are not held to the same certification standards as those in traditional public schools. The PA charter school law requires at least 75% of a charter school’s teachers hold appropriate certification.  However, at SCSC fewer than 50% of teachers are appropriately certified in accordance with the standards established for PA public schools. Therefore, the Board has established the condition that SCSC must achieve the 75% certification threshold for its teachers by September 2020.

The second condition relates to the health insurance programs which SCSC offers to its employees.  The PA charter school law states that charter schools must offer the same health benefits package as the school district that grants the charter.  Currently, SCSC offers a plan which is less comprehensive and more costly for its employees.  This conditional renewal is requiring that SCSC follow state law by offering its employees the same health benefits package that the District offers to its teaching staff by September 2020.  

Additionally, it is important to remember that the financial burdens placed on public school districts by charter schools are extreme:
  • Charter school tuition rates in SASD have more than doubled over the last decade, and have far outpaced increases in funding from the state. This means that charter school costs increasingly burden the local taxpayer. 

  • In 2011, the state stopped a reimbursement for school districts which had helped defray some charter school expenses.

  • The state requires our district to pay over $34,000 per student, per year, to SCSC for each student who is classified as needing special education services, regardless of how limited those services may be. Our actual cost for educating special education students is often thousands less. 

  • Our district must spend millions of dollars each year on other costs such as transportation, athletics, tax collection, debt service, and gifted services. SCSC shares none of these costs and is free to spend 100% of its budget on its own school.

  • This Board has worked very hard to maintain the lowest annual tax increases in the county and has raised taxes an average of only 1% over the past five years.  These increases brought in an additional $3.8 million total over five years, while charter schools siphoned off over $4 million last year alone.  It is plain to see how the broken charter school law hurts our local taxpayers. 

The Souderton Area School District continues to offer a dynamic, high quality educational experience while balancing fiscal needs and commitments to our taxpayers. As you are likely aware, SASD is one of many high achieving public school districts across Pennsylvania that has been urging the state legislature to reform charter school funding and oversight. The law currently strips more than $4 million each year from our district, with zero state reimbursement, putting that financial responsibility squarely on our local taxpayers.

We feel it is our obligation to share this information with our school community. We appreciate the support we receive for our students and staff, and are committed to the pursuit of equity for our taxpayers.

Sincerely,
Souderton Area Board of School Directors