September 26, 2011

Proposed changes to charter school law undermine public education and local control

Some members of the state House of Representatives are making a last-minute push to pass new legislation to allow the state to award charters to for-profit companies to take over hundreds of public schools, diverting even more funding from programs that students need.

House Bill 1711 would allow a state board to impose charters on districts, taking decisions about the schools in a community away from local taxpayers.

PSEA calls on state legislators to allow for meaningful public review of legislation that would dramatically expand the number of charter schools, after a bill not even formally introduced has been quietly pushed for a fast-track floor vote.

The bill, which is currently only available in draft form and could be amended into other legislation, would nearly double the number of charter schools in the Commonwealth.

Since the Pennsylvania charter school law’s enactment in 1997, the requirement that school districts fund charter school operations has cost school districts billions of taxpayer dollars. Pennsylvania’s public schools paid charter schools a total of $707.6 million for tuition of 73,054 students during the 2008-2009 school year.

PSEA calls for public input and meaningful review
At a time when Pennsylvania’s public schools begin a school year with $860 million in state funding cuts, pushing through important charter school legislation without even considering the fiscal impact is irresponsible. Quality charter schools can be a valuable component of the Commonwealth’s education system, but significant questions should be addressed in a careful manner. Charter schools aren’t a silver bullet solution to the challenges facing Pennsylvania’s struggling schools.

A study released by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes in April 2011 shows that students in Pennsylvania charter schools on average make smaller learning gains in reading and math than their traditional public school counterparts. The Stanford study notes that strong examples of quality charters do exist in the state, but policymakers need to "drive quality throughout the sector.”

Pennsylvania currently has 135 charter schools and 12 cyber charter schools. H.B. 1711 would allow as many as 92 school districts – the lowest performing 10 percent of school districts on state standardized reading or math tests – to convert individual school buildings into charter schools.

If judged by the same standards applied to traditional public schools in the draft legislation, student performance in nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s charter schools currently in operation would place those schools in the bottom 10 percent, targeting them for takeover by the state.

Under current law, conversion of a traditional public school to a charter school requires approval from public school districts. Under H.B. 1711, charter school operators would have the option of applying to the district or a state board. The board would include three appointees by the governor and four by legislative leaders of both parties.




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