Harrisburg – Dec. 11, 2015 – Commonwealth Court’s ruling that the Department of Education cannot shift tax relief money to pay charter schools validates objections raised by Mon Valley lawmakers that were reinforced by Senate Democrats’ efforts to stop payments, state Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) said today.

“The ruling validates concerns Representatives (Bill) Kortz, (Marc) Gergely and I raised in October about charter and cyber-charters trying to access property tax relief funds earmarked for school districts,” Brewster said. “Payments to charters and cyber-charters should not be put in front of property tax relief dollars for taxpayers.

“Senate Democrats then followed up by asking the treasurer to hold off paying charters until legal issues were resolved.”

In a Dec. 9 ruling, Commonwealth Court ordered the state Department of Education to stop the redirection of property tax relief funds to charters. Once a state spending plan is approved, the payments can be made as long as they are not from property tax relief monies.

Reps. Gergely (D-Allegheny) and Kortz (D-Allegheny) along with Brewster sought a meeting in mid-October with education department officials to detail their concerns.

Typically, charter and cyber-charter payments are deducted from basic education subsidies. Given the lack of state budget and no state subsidy payments, charters requested that other available funding be used for reimbursement.

“School districts face difficult fiscal challenges that were compounded by the state budget impasse. Attempts by charters to divert tax relief funds would have made a bad situation worse,” Brewster said. “The court’s order clears up the matter and prevents an inequity.”

Brewster said that it is way past time for a state budget — with sufficient support for education – to be approved. Legal actions, such as this court case, would be unnecessary if an agreement would have been reached on a state spending plan, he said.

The state was slated to make a $45 million payout to charter schools in late October, with 312 school districts diverting funds to charters.

Brewster cited McKeesport school district as an example of the imbalance when charters step before taxpayers. He said that McKeesport should receive $1.2 million in property tax payments but charters would have taken $1.17 million of that disbursement.

Property tax relief funds are generated through gaming revenues.

CONTACT: Tim Joyce



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