Op-Ed: Act 13 Violation

HARRISBURG – The COVID-19 pandemic has brought changes to almost every aspect of our lives. From stay-at-home orders, to mask mandates, to school closures, I think that everyone throughout the Commonwealth can agree that things are not what they were only a few months ago. On March 13, the Governor announced the closure of schools across the state. With this announcement, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 751 (now Act 13), which was signed into law by the Governor, to ensure that our schools were able to meet the challenges that came with the COVID-19 disaster emergency.

An important aspect of this legislation was to make certain that public schools would not be impacted financially because of this decision. At a Senate Education Committee hearing in May, we were assured that both school districts and charter schools would be paid for all students who were enrolled as of the date of the school closures – March 13, 2020.

However, I was deeply concerned to hear that the Pennsylvania Department of Education decided to change annual process that charter schools carry out to determine payments. This new guidance states that the total days counted toward payment for this process ends on March 13, instead of the actual last day of instruction. This is detrimental to charter and cyber schools’ annual payments, and reduces the number of days of instruction that counted towards payments, therefore creating a noteworthy and abrupt negative financial impact to charter public institutions.

There was clear language and intent within Senate Bill 751 – which included guidance from the Department and which the Governor signed into law – that students would have 57 instruction days, and charter funding would be 57/180 days. With the new changes in place by the Department, even though charter schools used virtual platforms for instruction (similar to how they usually carry out instruction), the department is refusing to pay charter schools for any session days that instruction was given after March 13.

This is yet another example of a clear violation of a statute by the Governor. A violation of a statute that he and the Department were involved with and that he signed into law. This is yet another example of the Governor going against the interests of thousands of students and families across our state.

The Governor and the Department need to be held accountable for their actions, and must start taking into consideration the concerns of individuals throughout our state.

For more information on Senator Mensch’s legislation, visit www.senatormensch.com.  State updates can also be found on Senator Mensch’s Facebook at facebook.com/PASenatorBobMensch/ or Twitter @SenatorMensch.

CONTACT: Madison Scarfaro mscarfaro@pasen.gov  (215) 541-2388