Governor calls charter school law 'worst in nation,' proposes changes
August 20, 2019
Recognizing Pennsylvania’s flawed and outdated charter school law is one of the worst in the nation, Governor Tom Wolf is taking executive action, overhauling regulations, and will propose legislation to comprehensively reform the law. The governor outlined his vision that will strengthen charter school quality, accountability and transparency to control costs and improve outcomes for students.
“Pennsylvania’s charter school law is unfair for students, parents, school districts, and taxpayers,” said Governor Wolf. “While many charter schools are succeeding, others, especially some cyber charter schools, are underperforming and we are not doing enough to hold them accountable to the taxpaying public and the children they serve.
“Today I’m announcing comprehensive charter school reform through executive action, regulation, and legislation. These changes will level the playing field for all taxpayer-funded public schools, strengthen the accountability and transparency of charter and cyber charter schools, and better serve all students.”
Brick-and-mortar charter and cyber charter schools, and for-profit companies that manage many of them, are not held to the same ethical and transparency standards of traditional public schools. Despite the rising costs of charter schools to school districts and property taxpayers, school districts and state government have limited authority to hold charter schools accountable.
The poor academic performance of some charter schools is also a concern. A recent report from Stanford University found overwhelmingly negative results from Pennsylvania’s cyber schools and called for the commonwealth to take urgent action.
Governor Wolf’s proposal promotes innovation and choice, while ensuring that charter schools are providing a high-quality education and meeting the same standards Pennsylvanians expect from traditional public schools.
Governor Wolf is tasking the Department of Education (PDE) with developing regulations to achieve the following:
Access to High-Quality
Education for All Students
Allow school districts to limit student enrollment at charters that do not provide a high-quality, equitable education to students.
Require transparent charter school admission and enrollment policies that do not discriminate based on intellectual or athletic ability, race/ethnicity, gender, or disability, among other student characteristics.
Accountability for All School Leadership
Hold charter schools and their operators to the same transparency standards as school districts because they are public schools and receive more than $1.8 billion in state and property tax dollars annually.
Require that charter school Board of Trustees and operating companies– like school district School Boards – are free from conflicts of interest and prohibit them from making decisions that provide a financial benefit to themselves, friends, and/or family members.
Require charter schools to use sound fiscal management, provide regular financial audits to state regulators, publicly bid contracts for supplies and services, use fair contracting practices, and engage their communities.
Provide greater oversight over charter school management companies, the businesses that often profit at the expense of Pennsylvania students and families.
Establish a model state application to start a new charter school or renew an existing charter school that provides school districts with comprehensive information on how the school will be run and allow for rigorous analysis.
Fair and Predictable
Funding for All Public Schools
Establish a clear process that requires charters to accurately document their costs.
Prevent charters from over charging districts and taxpayers for the educational services they provide.
Behalf of Taxpayers
Initiate a fee-for-service model to cover the department’s costs associated with implementing the charter school law.
Recoup taxpayer costs for thousands of hours of currently free services that the Department provides to charter schools when it reviews applications, processes millions of payments, and provides legal and administrative support.
In addition to executive action, the governor will propose comprehensive charter school reform legislation containing the regulatory changes and would:
Establish performance standards that hold charter schools accountable for the educational outcomes of students and a moratorium on new cyber charter schools
Cap student enrollment in low performing cyber charter schools until outcomes improve.
Require charter management companies be subject to the Right to Know Act, State Ethics Act, and post employee salaries on PDE’s website, similar to requirements already in place for public school districts.
Create fair, predictable, and equitable funding for school districts, including in the areas of special education funding and cyber charter tuition payments.
Establish a charter school funding commission to make recommendations on additional charter school funding reforms.
“We have some high-quality charter schools in our commonwealth and my proposal holds charters accountable to the same standards we set for traditional public schools. Through hard work and bipartisan compromise in Harrisburg, we have achieved pension reform and liquor reform. It’s time to reform the charter school law. That’s good for every child, family, and taxpayer in Pennsylvania.”
The governor announced charter school reform at press conferences in Allentown and in Pocono Summit, Monroe County. The Allentown School District’s structural budget deficit cannot be fixed without charter school reform.
“Before opening the doors, a potential charter school must demonstrate community support, academic innovation and financial stability. Once the charter school is up and running, though, meaningful oversight seems to go away,” said state Rep. Peter Schweyer. “There isn’t enough accountability on how tax dollars are spent, how the kids are being taught or if they’re even learning at all. Governor Wolf’s executive actions are a big step forward to bring about meaningful oversight to protect kids in charter schools.”
“One out of every six dollars spent by the Allentown School District goes to educating kids at charter schools - an increase of over 2000 percent in twenty years,” said state Rep. Mike Schlossberg. “This inequity is wildly unfair to our students, taxpayers and teachers. These moves will help control costs and increase educational opportunities for all Allentown students. I fully support these moves and appreciate the governor for having the courage to stand up for our students and taxpayers.”