Audit finds Pa. education department oversight on charter school payments insufficient

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says the process for addressing   charter school payment appeals is unclear and should be re-examined. (AP file photo)

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says the process for addressing charter school payment appeals is unclear and should be re-examined. (AP file photo)

Pennsylvania’s process to address appeals of charter school payment is unclear, according to an audit that recommends it be re-examined.

Pennsylvania’s charter schools receive part of their money from the public school districts in which they’re located. The charter submits a bill, and the district can approve or deny it.

But under current law, if the district denies payment, the charter can go directly to the state Education Department for the funding.

According to the audit report, the department then approves it, no questions asked, and it’s paid out from the district’s state subsidy.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said it’s not easy for districts to get back money they think has been wrongly routed to charters.

“A school district’s only option,” he said, “is to enter into a lengthy, confusing, nonsensical, rabbit-hole world that is [the education department’s] charter school payment appeals process.”

The audit showed, as of December, that 82 percent of such school district appeals from the last five years are still listed as unresolved.

As a result, $3.5 million is currently in what the report calls “limbo.” That’s money school districts say was wrongly taken out of their funding.

DePasquale said the fault lies not with the charter schools, but with the education department’s lack of oversight, as well as other more systemic problems.

“Our audit reveals a serious lack of clarity in the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s policies and procedures and follow through, and, once again, the failings of the charter school law itself,” he said.

On several occasions, DePasquale has said he thinks Pennsylvania’s charter school law is outdated, and ultimately the “worst in the country.”

The department has not responded to a request for comment.

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