It’s important to note that charter schools, while publicly funded, are not part of the State College Area School District. A charter school is an independent entity that operates within the boundaries of the district. While the district provides funding and transportation to the charters, as required by state law, it maintains no financial, academic or operational supervision, nor evaluative authority, over them.
Educating about 6,800 students in 13 schools, SCASD overall ranks 16th best out of 499 school districts in Pennsylvania, according to Niche.com in 2018. In our enrollment area, the vast majority of area families choose SCASD schools; charter schools only account for about 5 percent of area students.
During the 2016-2017 school year, the district paid tuition for 404 charter students at a total cost to taxpayers of $5.9 million, accounting for almost 5 percent of the district’s budget. That’s the equivalent of approximately 60 teaching positions.
PA charter schools within the State College Area School district boundaries, with enrollment numbers noted.
Brick and mortar charter schools
- Centre Learning Community Charter School, CLC - 60
- Nittany Valley Charter School - 29
- Young Scholars Charter School of Central Pennsylvania, YSCP - 214
- Wonderland Charter School (voluntarily closed July 31, 2018) - formerly 64
Cyber charter schools
- Agora Cyber Charter School - 3
- Dr. Robert Ketterer Charter School - 1
- Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School - 18
- PA Distance Learning Charter School - 1
- PA Leadership Charter School - 3
- PA Virtual Charter School - 7
- Reach Cyber Charter School - 1
- 21st Century Cyber Charter School - 3
An important difference between the school district and charter schools is accountability. Charter schools are led by appointed boards that do not have to answer to the community. In contrast, a publicly elected, nine-member Board of School Directors oversees SCASD. Our Board regularly holds broadcasted public meetings and routinely engages with the community. If they are dissatisfied with the Board’s decisions, community members may choose new directors or run for a seat through public elections. No such options exist when charter boards are appointed.
One misconception is that charter schools save money for school districts by reducing enrollment. This is untrue because local charter school students come from multiple schools across the district. Losing a student here or a couple of students there doesn’t change the overall costs of operating schools. For example, it would only save money if 20 students from the same class in the same building left the district, but that’s not happening. SCASD can’t decrease faculty sizes or trim operational costs based on these spread-out enrollment decreases.
Questions and Answers
Q: What is a charter school?
A: People often ask, “What’s a charter school?” Here’s a good charter school definition: It’s a privately run independent educational facility within a school district funded with public tax dollars.
Q: What’s the difference between charter and public schools?
A: A charter school does not charge tuition and, like public schools, is funded by tax dollars. In that sense, it’s a public charter school. But the board members or administrators who govern charter schools are not elected by community members and are not subject to public oversight.
Q: Are all charter school teachers certified?
A: According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education Teacher Certification Requirements for Charter Schools, only 75 percent of the professional staff members of a charter school must hold appropriate State certification. Every SCASD teacher must hold state certification.
Q: Are teacher salaries consistent at charters, given that they all receive the same amount of money from SCASD?
A: No, there are large discrepancies in the average salaries at different charter schools despite the fact that they all receive the same per-student funding. For example, according to the state Department of Education data in 2016-17, Centre Learning Community Charter School’s average salary was $61,813. Yet in the same year, Wonderland Charter School’s average teacher salary was $27,592, Young Scholars of Central PA was $35,992 and Nittany Valley Charter School was $34,916.
Q: Are charter schools required to accept all students?
A: No. Charter schools have a maximum number of seats and can cap admission. The district welcomes any child living within the geographic boundaries who desires to attend.
Q: Charter schools vs. public schools funding?
A: By law, a school district must fund charter schools within its boundaries on a per capita basis, according to a formula based on the district’s expenses. In other words, the district pays according to its own costs, not the actual charter school’s operational costs. School districts are required to fund charter schools without having any say about their budgets, curricula or employee hiring. See the SCASD funding for Charter Schools calculation of selected expenditures per average daily membership for the 2017-2018 school year.
Q: How are charter schools funded?
A: Charter student funding is determined by dividing a district’s total expenditures, minus certain exclusions, by the district’s average daily enrollment. Exclusions include federally funded expenditures and costs for transportation services, adult education programs, and debt. For special education students, the charter school receives additional funding on top of the regular tuition.
Q: Are charter schools free?
A: Charter schools are tuition free to parents. However, SCASD currently pays $13,980 in tuition annually for each regular education student and $28,381 for each special education student. The district pays the same rate to brick and mortar charter and cyber charter schools, despite cybers not having costs associated with traditional brick and mortar schools.
Q: How much is the district funding for charter schools?
A: The district is projecting tuition costs paid to charter schools in the current 2017-18 school year at over $7 million, an increase of approximately $1 million from the previous year.
Q: Does all the money get spent on Centre County students?
A: Not necessarily. Charters can spend less on direct instructional costs and use the surplus for other purposes, such as for building leases or marketing, without restrictions. SCASD provides comprehensive services to all students, including those with special needs. Charters do not consistently provide the same level of services, but still receive funding based on the district’s costs.
Q: Do charter schools bus their own students?
A: No. By state law, SCASD is required to transport all charter students according to the charter’s schedule. SCASD has no say in a charter school schedule, which raises transportation costs because the charter schools are not aligned with the SCASD schedule.
Q: Can charter school students participate on State College Area School District athletic teams?
A: Yes, by law, any charter school student can fully participate on any SCASD athletic team. The charter school does pay a fee to the district but the district is solely responsible for hiring coaches, paying their salaries, and maintaining athletic facilities.
Q: Do charter schools provide the same level of activities, library resources and gifted education as public schools?
A: Not in our area. SCASD elementary schools offer music lessons, ensembles and choruses starting in fourth grade, and the annual Partners in Music Program collaboration with Penn State provides another opportunity to develop. In middle school, students can participate in exceptional music and drama activities. Our elementary and middle schools have comprehensive, well-stocked libraries, as well as challenging gifted education instruction through individualized plans for students. Charter schools are specifically exempt from the requirement to provide gifted education services.
Q: How can charter schools offer before- and after-school programs for free or at an extremely low cost?
A: Charter schools have no public regulation of how they spend their money. Therefore, they can use money intended for all students to pay for the costs of providing before- and after- school care for only those who choose to take advantage of it. The State College district does not operate that way. We do offer before- and after -school opportunities but they’re paid for by the participants in the program only.