The Berks County Committee on Legislative Action (COLA), in partnership with the Berks County Intermediate Unit (BCIU), the 18 Berks County school districts, and the two career and technology centers, has launched a targeted advocacy campaign focused on its top two legislative priorities for 2021: increased state funding for special education and cyber charter school reform.
In Berks County alone, more than 13,500 K-12 students receive special education services each year with total expenditures topping $200 million across the county’s 18 school districts.
“In the past 10 years, Berks County has seen a 25% increase in the number of students receiving special education services. As that number grows, so does the cost to our local school districts,” said Dr. Michelle Reichard-Huff, Director of the Office of Early Childhood and Student Services at the BCIU. “Unfortunately, federal and state funding has not kept up with the increased demand, placing the burden on school districts which leads to increased property taxes.”
The committee has introduced a five-point plan to address the issue. “It all starts with increased funding from the state level,” said Dr. Reichard-Huff. “But it is important to not only increase the funding but to create a more equitable distribution model so the funds get to the districts that need them the most.”
As costs related to special education continue to rise, so have the costs to school districts related to cyber charter school tuition. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the issue, leading to a nearly 50% increase in Berks County students enrolled in cyber charter schools for the 2020-2021 school year. The result is an estimated $11.7 million increase in costs to districts.
Mr. Dan Richards, Director of the Office of Professional Development and Curriculum at the BCIU, says that when a student enrolls in a cyber charter school, the district is left paying tuition costs based on the budgeted expenditures of the student’s school district of residence, rather than the charter school’s cost to educate a student. He noted that, “The district, unlike the cyber charter school, has to pay for fixed costs such as classrooms, building maintenance, utilities, and transportation without seeing any corresponding cost savings for students in the cyber charter schools.”
A more equitable funding formula and increased oversight of cyber charter schools have been identified as the keys to containing cyber charter school tuition costs and creating a more level playing field between school districts and cyber charter schools.
To increase awareness about these key issues and to generate support in Harrisburg, COLA is engaging in a multi-layered, targeted campaign which will run through the spring.
The campaign will take place over a 20-week period, based on a 10×10 plan. The first 10 weeks, from February 15 through April 23, will focus on telling “Our Story,” using social media, testimonials, and video clips highlighting Berks County students, families, and educators directly impacted by these issues; and informing stakeholders. The second 10 weeks, from April 26 through June 30, will employ “targeted action,” including meetings with legislators, letter writing, and phone calls.
The Targeted Advocacy Campaign provides an opportunity to address the costs that are directly impacting local taxpayers while also maintaining the top priority of providing access to high-quality education for the students of Berks County. The public can follow the campaign by visiting berksiu.org/advocacy and BCIU social media channels:
The public is encouraged to strengthen the advocacy efforts by liking, commenting, and sharing campaign content.