Chester, PA, December 29, 2011 – The Chester Community Charter School (CCCS), the largest K-8 charter school in Pennsylvania, today announced that it has filed suit, in the Commonwealth Court, against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Education, the Chester-Upland School District (CUSD) and the District’s board of directors, seeking a judgment that would compel the respondents to ensure immediate payment to the school of $3,862,983.40 in seriously delinquent funds due and owing. The amounts due to CCCS are undisputed by CUSD and the PDE. Moreover, through the end of the 2011-2012 school year, CCCS is owed an additional $18 million.
CCCS’ funds, according to the Pennsylvania Charter School Law, first flow through the School District, which is then required by law to make 12 equal payments to CCCS, according to a fixed statutory formula, no later than the fifth day of each month.
Yet, through December 2011, CCCS has experienced ten, consecutive monthly defaults by CUSD, and the lack of timely payments has placed the charter school, and the continuing education of more than 3000 students, at risk.
"There is no question," said Dr. David Clark, CEO of Chester Community Charter School, "that we have been extraordinarily patient, up to this point, while our school and its students have been deprived, inappropriately, of the funding to which they are entitled.
"Our greatest concern," Dr. Clark added, "is that the academic progress for CCCS' school children will be negatively impacted, something we don't want to see happen. Such a development would be most unsettling for the entire city of Chester, and for its families. Neither the District, nor the PDE has the right to deprive these young people of an opportunity to be properly educated. In that regard, we're petitioning the Commonwealth to restore funding."
Contrary to popular belief, the existence of charter schools within a school district does not contribute to budgetary shortfalls. In fact, when a student chooses a charter school education, not only does the student change schools but also the cost of educating the student changes schools. In other words, while the school district “loses” funding when a student makes the choice to receive a charter school education, the school district also loses the cost of educating that student. And significantly, the funding that follows the student is not 100% of the cost of educating that student, but, rather, 75% of that amount, according to the Charter School Law. That being the case the school district actually enjoys a financial windfall when a student leaves.
As is the case for all brick-and-mortar charter schools, CCCS operates on the Charter School Rate, a reduced rate of funding determined as a percentage of the per-pupil funding of the school district. That is to say, CCCS receives a smaller amount for each student it educates than does CUSD for the students in the schools it operates. Yet CCCS has achieved significantly greater outcomes.
The PDE has acknowledged CUSD's repeated defaults but has also acknowledged that it has several times advanced or loaned money to the District. In fact, the PDE recently acknowledged that it advanced several millions of dollars from CUSD’s 2011-2012 subsidy to pay off CUSD’s 2010-2011 debts. In making this advance, the PDE failed to protect CCCS from the District’s fiscal mismanagement and put CCCS’ 2011-2012 statutory entitlement in jeopardy. Equally important, the PDE’s practices have put the successful education of all of CCCS’ students in peril.
Since opening in 1998, CCCS has grown from an initial enrollment of 98 students to today’s enrollment of 3023 students. The public charter school is located in nine buildings over two campuses in the Chester-Upland School District. It has made AYP, the federal benchmark for academic success, for three years in a row.
CUSD, by comparison, has been ranked among the very worst-performing school districts in the Commonwealth, for decades.