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Savings? What Savings?

savings2Nearly every time I open a newspaper, or, more often, click through a news website, I see claims that changes to our educational funding system can save taxpayer dollars. Everyone loves to talk about taxpayer dollars and what should be done with them because all of us are taxpayers (except maybe the lucky few who live on a houseboat).

But the claim that we can save taxpayer dollars by reforming educational funding continues to irk me. While it’s true that millions of taxpayer dollars are flowing from the school district to the 157 charter schools in Pennsylvania (16 of which are cyber charters), I don’t see how any efforts made to adjust educational funding can logistically “save” those millions.

I pay taxes in Chester County, PA. My taxes have never gone down. Not once. My parents, like so many other parents I’m sure, taught me that nothing in life is guaranteed except, of course, for death and taxes. Pretty grim reality, but a reality nonetheless. So, how can we save taxpayer dollars if my taxes will only continue to climb over the years?

The message of potential savings being transmitted feels to me like a problem with semantics. What individuals mean to say is that reorganizing the public school funding formula can stand to shift where money goes and what it is being spent on. In plain English, there is a hope that funding reform can adjust the amount of money flowing from school districts to charter and cyber charter schools.

Currently, when a child elects to learn in a charter or cyber charter school, the monies initially expected to be delivered to a school district are instead sent to the alternative public school a child will attend.

How much money are we talking about?

Every school district in the state pays a different dollar amount to charter and cyber charter schools. This is because transferred funding depends upon (1) how much a school district allots to spend per student per school year, and (2) how many students leave a given school district. With so many numbers floating around, and no set expectation, a lot of money feels a bit up in the air. What’s worse is that calculations will change from year to year! Every single school year will operate with different dollar amounts and a different number of students.

But let’s get back to savings. How can we save taxpayer dollars?

savings-goalsDifferent groups/sources tout different amounts of expected savings. In 2012, Auditor General Jack Wagner claimed the possibility of $363 million in taxpayer savings if charter school funding was restructured. Organizations like the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) claim the possibility for savings to reach $510 million by the 2016-17 school year.

So, if we restructure, am I going to see my taxpayer money put back in my pocket?

The simple answer is, NO.

Nowhere in the equation is there a factor of “savings” for the taxpayer. No one is writing you a check.  Instead, restructuring the funding formula will mean reallocating funds so that school districts retain a higher dollar amount for students they no longer serve. This is to say that when a child opts out of a traditional brick-and-mortar school district, that school district may retain the right to keep monies for that child.

That doesn’t sound like savings to me. It’s important to know the facts. Restructuring the funding formula may better organize how monies are flowing to public schools (districts and charter schools alike). But no one is walking away with more money.

It remains your choice and your right to help designate how spending occurs. Stay informed!

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