Written by Susan Spicka
May 10, 2023

Testimony of Susan Spicka, Executive Director, Education Voters of PA, House Democratic Policy Committee Hearing, May 8th , 2023,

Hello and thank you for this opportunity to testify today. 

My name is Susan Spicka, and I am the executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, a  statewide nonpartisan, nonprofit policy and advocacy organization that works to ensure adequate and  equitable public school funding for all students in the commonwealth. 

Ed Voters has long advocated for funding reforms that will more closely align tuition payments to cyber  charter schools with their actual costs. We have written reports and created fact sheets that are on our  website.  

Cyber charter school are awash in mountains of excess funding that they waste as evidenced by millions  of dollars they spend on advertising every year; the cash payments and gift cards they send to families;  the $250 cash reimbursements they give to families to pay for their children’s leisure activities; the parties they hold for families at arcades and restaurants all over the commonwealth; the tickets they  give families to go to Penguins and Phillies games; and the staggering amount of real estate development being paid for, most specifically, by Pennsylvania’s largest cyber charter school,  Commonwealth Charter Academy, or CCA. 

I was a school board member in Shippensburg from 2015-2019, where I experienced firsthand the negative fiscal impact that cyber charter school tuition bills have on students and on a community. We regularly raised property taxes to help pay for the increases in our cyber charter school tuition  payments. Because of the charter school tuition calculation formulas in the law, even when our  enrollment didn’t go up, our tuition payments did. 

Shippensburg is a Level Up district. We are also a growing district with primarily old buildings that are  running out of classroom space for students. The district is in the middle of a multi-year process of  determining current and future construction needs and how to finance these needs, which far exceed  the funding we have available to pay for them. 

Our athletic facilities are so degraded that the PIAA will not allow our district to host home track meets.  We do not have a facility on school property that can accommodate football games. Instead, our  football team plays at a municipal park where there is no indoor space for teams to meet before the  game or during halftime. The space the home team once used was condemned because of asbestos, so  the home team gathers on a soccer field and the away team huddles under a tent during halftime.  Players share a bathroom that has two toilets and two urinals with the spectators who are attending the  games. 

I bring this up because earlier this year Commonwealth Charter Academy purchased a 4.73-acre parcel  of land for $2.375 million in the Shippensburg Area School District. They have begun construction of  what will be a large, professional office building, owned by Perini Services, Inc, which is located in Lauderdale by the Sea, Florida.

Cyber charter schools are funded by the tuition payments they receive from school districts. Because  there is no longer any state reimbursement to school districts for their charter school tuition costs,  these tuition payments are funded primarily by property taxes. 

In 2021-2022, Pennsylvanians sent $1 billion in property taxes from our home and business owners to  cyber charter schools. How much of this funding has been spent on advertising? How much has been  spent on profits for management companies? How much has been spent reimbursing families for their  children’s horseback riding lessons or paying for tickets and parking for Phillies games? How much is  being used to pay for a new, state-of-the-art office buildings that will be owned by a real estate developer in Florida? No one knows. 

What I do know is that it is not thorough or efficient for a state to have a state funding system for  education that starves one sector of schools–our school districts– while lavishing so much excess  funding in another sector–cyber charter schools-that they can amass a real estate portfolio that would  be the envy of most private corporations. 

We need funding reforms to align tuition payments to cyber charter schools with what it actually costs  them to educate children. 

In addition, the PA legislature and General Counsel of PDE need to open an investigation into the  unprecedented real estate acquisitions that are being made by CCA throughout the commonwealth.  Pennsylvanians need to understand how much is being spent on land purchases and new construction of  buildings. Who owns these properties? And what is their purpose—because cyber charter schools are  supposed to educate students at home, not in brick-and-mortar buildings.  

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.