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Action on Pennsylvania Charter School Law Reform

Chester County charter school attorneys counsel school administrators on law reform.Governor Tom Wolf has announced wide ranging changes to Pennsylvania’s charter school policy, including charging charter schools for services the state provides, tightening ethics standards, and permitting school districts to limit enrollment at under-performing charter schools. The Department of Education will oversee the changes to charter regulations with the aim of increasing accountability for the schools. Wolf plans to makes the changes through executive actions. Revision of charter school law would have to be made with the support of legislative leaders.

Charter School Controversy

Charter schools are for some a much-needed alternative to traditional district-run schools. The movement has grown from some 79,000 students enrolled in Pennsylvania charters nearly a decade ago to more than 143,000 students last year in 180 independent public schools. In Philadelphia, more than one-third of city public school students attend charters. Enrollment in a charter school is free to students, but the school district is required to pay their tuition. Critics of charters see this as a drain on the public education system.

Districts must pay for both brick-and-mortar charters and cyber charter schools where students learn via computer from home. Cyber charters have performed poorly in recent studies and reform advocates want all taxpayer funded schools to have the same standards of transparency and accountability.

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools criticized Governor Wolf for not involving the charter school community in the plans for reform and said that some of the reforms represent a “blatant attack” on charter schools. It also questioned the legality of the proposed changes and suggested that some could be in violation of the state Charter School Law.

Charter school reform has been a topic for years in the Pennsylvania legislature with four charter reform bills being passed just last year in the House. However, none have become law.

Goal and Priorities

The Governor’s announcement offered a broad proposal of “goals and priorities” but little detail about how they would be achieved. Following are some of the proposed charter reform changes from the full text released by the Governor’s office:

  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Establish a clear process that requires charters to accurately document their costs.
  • Initiate a fee-for-service model to cover the department’s costs associated with implementing the charter school law.

Chester County Charter School Attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser Advise and Counsel Charter School Administrators

If you have a question about charter school law in Pennsylvania, contact The MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser to speak to an experienced Chester County education law attorney. Call 484-318-7106 or contact us online. From our office in West Chester, we assist clients across Philadelphia, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.