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Pennsylvania Charter School Reform

Governor Tom Wolf recently proposed significant changes to Pennsylvania’s charter school law that he alleges could save school districts several million dollars while reducing the funding provided to charter schools. The reform overhauls Pennsylvania’s rules for charter school funding and accountability. Charter schools are independent public schools funded by payments from districts based on the parents’ choice to enroll their children. Public school districts in the state have been seeing a shortfall in their budgets and allege they are due to the increase in charter school funding payments while ignoring growing line items in their budget like PSERS payments. School districts pay charter schools based on enrollment at the per student at a rate which is set based on the spending of the district and is about 75% of the money the district spends on students.

Pennsylvania has a history of school choice. Charter schools have been promoted as alternatives to public school systems. Since their introduction in the late 1990s, student enrollment in Pennsylvania charter schools has steadily increased. Approximately 143,000 students are enrolled in charter schools throughout Pennsylvania. Charter school enrollment in Pennsylvania is amongst the highest in the nation. The reform put forth will have a significant and negative impact on the following factors:

Cyber Charter Schools. Cyber charter schools run at the same rate as brick and mortar charter schools.  The Governor alleges that they do not have the additional costs of maintaining a building and the is not based on the actual cost of educating the child.  The reform proposes to set a statewide rate for what a school district will pay cyber charter schools. However, cyber charter schools do operate out of buildings within the Commonwealth and establishing a flat rate to be paid to cyber charter schools would not take into consideration all the factors that go into the education of a child in a cyber environment like providing internet access, providing equipment including computers and printers, and providing in person services where the needs of the student dictate.  While the provision of education and the mechanism of education in a cyber environment is different, the Governor’s proposal ignores many of the costs and expenses that cyber charters experience that District’s do not.

Special Education. The reform proposes that the law be modified to set different rates for special education of students based on the severity of students’ needs, as opposed to a standard rate for the wide spectrum of special needs.  The Governor’s proposal ignores the fact that the rate for special education payments to charter schools is entirely based on the district’s spending on special education of students in the district.  The implementation of a tiered rate for special education students may benefit some districts, but overall will negatively impact the provision of services to students with special needs.

Standard Application Process. The reform proposes a standard framework for charter applications, which is something that charter schools have advocated for over the last few years.

Tighten Regulations. The reform proposes to make private companies that contract with charter schools subject to state Right-to-Know laws. However, the reform fails to distinguish between service providers and would subject entities like health care companies, insurers, accounting firms, and law offices to inquiries under the Right to Know Law unless the proposed reform is modified.

The Governor is sending a harsh message to parents of students enrolled in charter schools as funding for these schools will decline sharply due and more than 143,000 students will be affected.  Districts have blamed charter schools and ignored budget drivers like retirement costs skyrocketing over the last ten years, and refused to discuss equitable funding of the education of children in Pennsylvania.

For more information on how the proposed reform will affect your school, contact the legal team at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser. Our counsel has considerable experience in representing school districts and charter schools. Contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106 for an initial consultation. We serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania from our office in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

What Should I Know About My Public Employees’ Social Media Use?

Social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have changed the way we communicate as a society. Now more than ever, we have a unique glimpse into the private lives of our acquaintances, friends, colleagues, and even employees. While we are endowed with free speech in this country, public sector employers should still be cautious about just how much their employees reveal in their online posts. If an employee works for a public school, government office, or law enforcement agency in New Jersey, they can get in trouble for a social media post, especially if it reflects poorly on their workplace.

New Jersey Law and Public Workers’ Social Media Use

New Jersey Public Law 2013, Chapter 155, addresses the interests of the public employer and the rights of the employee acting as a free citizen utilizing social media. The law prohibits the employer from seeking access to employees’ social media accounts, but it does not prevent them from viewing public posts or posts brought to their attention. Under the law, a public sector employer has the following rights when it comes to reviewing employee social media posts:

  • A requirement to comply with state and federal laws.
  • Enforcement of policies regarding the use of electronic communication during working hours on their devices or made for business purposes at any time.
  • Ability to investigate issues of compliance with applicable regulations and laws brought to their attention as a result of social media activity and any unauthorized transfer of confidential information to a personal account.
  • View, access, and use any information posted by a potential or current employee on public social media accounts.

Bad Social Media Use

Social media is important to both the employer and the employee. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, about 43 percent of employers use social media to check on current employees. The following are social media behaviors that left employers with a bad impression:

  • Provocative or inappropriate information
  • Drinking or drug use
  • Discriminatory comments
  • Poor communication skills
  • Bad-mouthing previous employers
  • Sharing confidential information from previous employers
  • Lying about an absence
  • Posting too frequently

An employer can act on public posts that contradict the values of the public school, office, or department where the employee works; an employee does not have to give them access. If an employee retaliates and uses slander against the institution, they may be penalized under the law. An experienced employment lawyer can best explain your rights.

When it comes using social media, finding out where to draw the line at free speech is not always simple. At MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser, our skilled West Chester employment lawyers handle complex legal issues facing public sector employers. To learn more about our services, call 484-318-7106 or use the online form to contact us today. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we represent clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and New Jersey.

Law Enforcement Professionals Increase Use of Technology

Technological advances are improving law enforcement officers’ ability to combat crime. From robots and drones to biometrics, advances in technology are helping detectives and police officers apprehend, identify, and track criminals more accurately. Critics lament that these tools can be abused and increase police officers’ authority. Advocates of the technology argue that the technical tools are instrumental in solving and preventing crimes more thoroughly. Police officers and other law enforcement personnel increasingly rely on the following:

Robots

Remote-controlled robots equipped with cameras can be utilized to enter dangerous buildings and inaccessible areas for surveillance. These robots can detect bombs and provide real-time information regarding crimes in progress. Police can use the information to plan their responses and identify criminals without risk of injury or death.

Drones

Similar to robots, drones with cameras are increasingly utilized to monitor activity remotely. Police can send drones to areas where suspected crimes are occurring to watch for criminal activity. They can provide an aerial view to gain vital information on individuals conducting crimes and follow them to their hideouts without their knowledge. The crucial information can be gleaned from the safety of the police station where an appropriate plan and response can be created with minimal disruption to public safety.

Biometrics

Police have always relied on fingerprints taken from the scene of a crime in their investigations. However, the advances in biometrics now include retinal scans and DNA analysis to identify individuals more accurately. Due to technological advances, police officers can instantly identify criminals.

Big Data

Data collection has become a great source for law enforcement as data is constantly generated from various sources. Data from video surveillance, cellular communications, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and other sources is compiled and used to track crime and identify suspects. GPS data can be used to pinpoint locations of calls. DNA, fingerprints, retinal scans, and facial recognition technology are stored in databases utilized by law enforcement officers to identify suspects quickly so that they can be apprehended before further harm occurs.

Social Media

Another great source of information is the scouring of social media sites for further information on an individual’s activity. Most individuals have a social media presence in which they voluntarily post information about their whereabouts, activities, photos, and videos that offer several clues to investigators.

License Plate Readers

Police cars are equipped with scanners that read license plates and tags.  These scanners can alert officers of stolen vehicles and provide instant analysis on the vehicle and its owners.

Body Cameras and Accountability

Body cameras and cameras mounted to police vehicles increase police accountability. Video from these cameras can be used to monitor and safeguard police brutality. Due to the recording of police behavior, police officers can be held more accountable and build credibility in their communities.

The attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser have considerable experience defending local, county, and state law enforcement agencies.  For an initial consultation on police officer-related matters, contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106. We represent clients throughout Chester County and Philadelphia, as well as in New Jersey from our office located in West Chester, Pennsylvania.