Pa. school districts project $475M increase in charter school costs during pandemic | Thursday Morning Coffee

January 14, 2021 7:07 am

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Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts are projecting a $475 million increase charter school tuition costs this year as parents sought new ways to educate their kids in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report has found.

Tuition payments to cyber-charter schools make up a staggering $350 million of that tally, the survey by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials found, and that spending increase “was noted by many survey respondents as a top financial concern for next year, followed by assessment appeals and state funding.”

The survey, conducted with the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, runs down the fiscal and instructional challenges during an historic public health crisis that saw schools repeatedly between in-person and remote instruction, challenging administrators, teachers and students alike.

The pandemic “required an unprecedented change in K-12 schools to overcome new operational and fiscal challenges and continue to educate Pennsylvania’s students in the wake of the most critical public health crisis in our nation’s history,” PASBO said in a statement.

And “while school leaders coped with the unknown budget effects of COVID, technology access and staffing shortages plagued the changes in instructional models leaving school leaders concerned about remedying the instructional deficit many students are experiencing,” the statement reads.

Ninety percent of respondents cited staffing shortages and challenges prompted by the creation of new online programs. The demands of social distancing, smaller class sizes and quarantine procedures “spread existing staff very thin,” the report concludes. Nearly 85 percent of respondents said it was difficult, if not impossible, to find substitute teachers.

And as schools moved online, either full-time, or for hybrid instruction, at least 70 percent of respondents said they had difficulties getting students and parents engaged in online work, as well as contending with the cost of new technology, and challenges with internet access, the report found.

Other key findings:

  • “While school districts reversed a two-decade trend of increasing property taxes to meet the continuing escalating expenditures for mandated costs, more than 50 percent of school districts did not raise property tax rates in 2020-21.
  • “While property tax increases were historically minimal, there are many local revenue unknowns for the current fiscal year. More than half of survey respondents projected a reduction in earned income tax collection rates this year as employment levels continue to be elevated due to the pandemic.
  • “Additionally, more than half of survey respondents anticipated a reduction in property tax collection rates as well. Less wealthy school districts with restricted tax bases may be more susceptible to local revenue declines as the pandemic’s economic impact is generating disparate effects,” the report found.

According to PASBO, “the report uses data collected in the late fall of 2020 from two separate surveys—one for school district superintendents, and one for school district business managers.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Corporations are already threatening to cut off D.C. pols who challenged the election results. Could Harrisburg be next? Elizabeth Hardison leads our coverage this morning as she takes a look at that very question.

The U.S. House voted Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump for a historic second time for inciting the deadly violence at the Capitol last week. Capital-Star Washington Reporters Laura Olson and Ariana Figueroa have the details. Your humble newsletter author collects up comment from Pennsylvania’s Capitol Hill delegation. Investigators also have opened 170 cases related to the attackFigueroa also reports.

In a flurry of action, committees in the Republican-controlled state House advanced a pair of constitutional amendments on Wednesday. Both are indicators of long-simmering tensions between the GOP and the state Supreme Court and Democratic Wolf administrationStephen Caruso reports.

State Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Alleghenytook the oath of office in a brief ceremony on Wednesday, a week after majority Republicans’ refusal to seat him plunged the 50-member chamber into chaos, Elizabeth Hardison also reports.

Our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper take a look at the potential loss of campaign cash that’s facing U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District, a stalwart Trump supporter.

On our Commentary Page, free-lance journalist Deena Winter, who grew up in an evangelical household, examines the intersection between Trumpism and conservative Christianity. And a University of Washington scholar explains why, despite complaints by his allies, impeaching Donald Trump is not a merely divisive political exercise.

En la Estrella-Capital: Fiedler presidirá el nuevo panel progresivo mientras continúa el cambio de imagen Demócrata de la Cámara. Y la seguridad del Complejo Capitolio de Pa. aumentó después de la violencia en D.C.

U.S. President Donald Trump stands in the colonnade as he is introduced to speak at the White House on Jan. 19, 2018. Photo by Mark Wilson | Getty Images

Away from state politics today, there’s only one story that matters: President Donald Trump was impeached for a historic second time on Wednesday. The Inquirer has its story here.
The Tribune-Review
 runs down how western Pennsylvania lawmakers voted on the single impeachment article before the U.S. House on Wednesday.
Pennsylvania is too slow at vaccinating residents of long-term care homes, industry experts tell PennLive (paywall).
A new state dashboard lists the restaurants that have violated COVID-19 protocols, the Morning Call reports.
What else are healthcare workers getting along with the vaccine? Peace of mind, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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The Herald-Standard talks with local scholars about impeachment and its impact on the country.
The pandemic has claimed its youngest victim in Erie County, GoErie reports.
WHYY-FM has the latest on a debate over a proposed quarry in Bucks County. 
The rise of take-out booze has addiction experts and advocates worried, reports.
In a video message, President Donald Trump condemned the violence he incited at the Capitol last week, but expressed no contrition over it, Talking Points Memo reports.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Abby Rhoad, at LancasterOnline, who celebrates today. Congrats and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one that was passed along by a reader. It’s an appropriate enough soundtrack for these strange and troubled times. It’s ‘On and On,’ by Boy Kill Boy. The opening couplets say it all. Click through, you’ll see what we mean.

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
It was a night for rivals as the 2021 NHL campaign got underway on Wednesday night. Philadelphia skated past Pittsburgh 6-3while Toronto slipped past Montreal 5-4 in OT in an Original Six match-up.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.