LACKAWANNA COUNTY -- Charter schools across the Commonwealth may have found a loophole to get state money during the budget impasse.
Public schools have been looking for ways to make ends meet without money from Harrisburg and now casino money is being diverted to those charter schools.
The state budget is 111 days late and many school districts, including Carbondale Area, are in dire financial straits.
The State Department of Education has opened up some money from a tax on slot machines. However, much of that casino cash is going to charter schools and has public school leaders shaking their heads.
The students at Fell Charter Elementary School near Carbondale may not realize the money problems looming large over the school districts and their school.
Their parents may not either.
"I don’t know where they’re getting their money from. I don’t really care as long as they have it and he can keep going to school every day," said Melanie Smith whose son is in sixth grade at Fell Charter.
Fell Charter Principal Mary Jo Walsh sees a big problem. No state budget means no money for public schools, including charter schools.
My bottom line is just about at zero. We are, as every school district is in the area, looking for ways to modify schedules, that we might need to take a look at layoffs," said Walsh.
With nearly 200 students grades K-8, Fell Charter and other schools like it rely on money from traditional school districts for each student in order to operate.
"If those kids are going to Fell, Carbondale has to pay for those kids," said Kat Bischak who attended both schools.
The state budget is three months late and counting and Walsh said the state money Fell Charter gets from Carbondale area school district has been on hold.
"If school districts can't pay us, we need to get something," she said.
Charter schools will be getting something. The state plans to divert tax money from casinos to charter schools, money that usually goes right to districts like Carbondale Area School District.
"They took about half of the $312,000 we were going to get. It’s happened before, not shocked by it. Nothing that happens down there surprises me," said Carbondale Area Business Manager Dave Cerra.
In order to pay the bills and employees, school leaders at Carbondale Area met last week and decided to borrow more than $2 million. Officials said that may last a few months and any casino money would have helped.
Back at Fell Charter, Principal Walsh said the casino money will help but won't even cover one payroll.
"We need a budget. We can’t run a school without money," said Walsh.
Fell Charter still hasn't received that any of the casino money from the eight different districts it gets money from, according to Principal Walsh.
The state auditor general announced he'll look into whether bypassing traditional school districts in this case is legal or not.