Collegium Charter School in Exton, Chester County, has filed a preliminary injunction against both the Coatesville Area School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education over $18 million in allegedly delinquent payments Collegium says it is owed for educating about 2,300 of its students who reside in the Coatesville district.
Coatesville school board members and Collegium parents traded points of view about the funding dispute during the school board’s Dec. 15 remote meeting.
Some parents have taken the delay very personally. In a statement from Kenneth Kilpatrick, spokesman for Collegium, CEO Marita Barber states Coatesville has no legal basis for withholding money from Collegium and education funds must follow the child.
“This issue is about protecting families’ rights to choose a public school they believe is best for their children,” Barber said.
Coatesville board President Robert Fisher said the board “does not have any dislike of charter schools” and the real issue is the state’s “flawed funding formula” surrounding how charter school tuition is paid.
Coatesville pointed to a very tight budget and says it must pay charter school tuition while also providing transportation and a full educational program for its own public school students. Currently 33.82% of Coatesville’s budget goes to support area charter schools, including Collegium.
The $18 million is a state Department of Education issue, according to a statement from the Levin Legal Group, Coatesville’s solicitors, speaking through district spokesperson Beth Trapani. Coatesville, like many other school districts, believes it has the right under state charter school law to elect to have charter school tuition paid by the Department of Education through the subsidy redirection process.
Collegium disagrees and says Coatesville has not directly paid the charter since November 2019. Kilpatrick said the state Department of Education has redirected some subsidy money to Collegium but it has been inadequate.
According to Lori Diefenderder, Coatesville's business manager, the district is working to reverse its $1.5 million negative fund balance for the 2020-21 school year and doesn’t have sufficient cash flow to make monthly payments to Collegium. Coatesville anticipates the state will pay Collegium by the end of the year, according to the solicitor’s statement.
Board member Tom Keech said the current funding formula creates “an unfair playing field.”
According to figures from Diefenderfer, the state funding formula allows Collegium to bill Coatesville $34,000 per special education student, but Collegium spends just $11,581 per special education student.
“Are students getting what they need for the $11,581?” asked board member Brandon Rhone.
Keech said Coatesville has to pay but has no oversight.
In a statement, Collegium says the education it provides is both legal and appropriate, and results are reflected in state achievement scores.
The Collegium suit, filed Nov. 24, is scheduled to be heard at 1 p.m. Jan. 7 in Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, according to spokesperson Kenneth Kilpatrick.
In other matters the board learned it must look for a new Region 1 school board member following Rhone’s resignation after three years of service. Rhone said it has been “an honor and a privilege to serve,” but a residence change necessitated his resignation.
Region 1 board members represent citizens in Valley Township and the city of Coatesville.