Charter schools, while publicly funded, are not part of the Gettysburg Area School District (GASD). During the 2019-2020 school year, the district paid tuition for 299 charter students at a total cost to taxpayers over $3.6 million.
Charter schools come in two different categories. One is a brick and mortar establishment that typically enrolls students living within 10 miles of a school district’s boundary. The other is a cyber charter school that can be located anywhere within the commonwealth.
GASD educates about 3,000 students and has won numerous awards and received accolades at the state and national level. In fact, Niche.com rated GASD 66 out of over 500 school districts across the commonwealth. While most families choose GASD for their child's education, charter schools account for about 7% of area students.
PA charter schools located within the Gettysburg Area School District boundaries, with GASD enrollment numbers:
Brick and mortar charter schools
- Vida Charter School - 107
- Montessori Charter School - 60
Statewide Cyber charter schools
- Agora Cyber Charter School - 9
- Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School - 18
- PA Distance Learning Charter School - 4
- PA Leadership Charter School - 8
- PA Virtual Charter School - 5
- Reach Cyber Charter School - 35
- 21st Century Cyber Charter School – 7
- Achievement House Cyber Charter School – 2
- Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCAC) – 40
- Insight PA Cyber Charter - 3
- Susquehanna Cyber - 1
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 GASD. Our board regularly holds 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 many students from the same class in the same building left the district, but that’s not happening. GASD 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: It’s a privately run independent educational funded facility with public tax dollars.
Q: What are the differences 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. Additionally, the depth of programming in many cases does not compare to that of a traditional public school, like GASD.
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 GASD teacher must hold state certification.
Q: Are charter schools required to accept all students?
A: No. Charter schools have a maximum number of seats and can cap admission. On the other hand, 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 accepting students from 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.
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, GASD currently pays $14,800 in tuition annually for each regular education student and $26,186 for each special education student, regardless of the level of services provided by the charter school. 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 paid over $3.6 million to charter schools in the 2019-20 school year.
Q: Does all the money get spent on local 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. Charter schools can allocate money for radio or tv commercials as well as an array of printed marketing materials, such as billboards. GASD 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, GASD is required to transport all charter students according to the charter’s schedule.
Q: Can charter school students participate on GASD athletic teams?
A: Yes, by law, any charter school student can fully participate on any GASD 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 and gifted education as public schools?
A: No, GASD elementary schools offer music lessons for band, orchestra and chorus starting in fourth grade. In middle school, students can participate in 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 less 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. GASD does not operate that way. We do offer before and after school opportunities. Some of the activities beyond the school day offered by the district are free of charge, others are paid but only by the participants in the program.