Gov. Wolf: Charter School Reform Benefits Students and Taxpayers in Northwestern Pennsylvania

August 29, 2019

Erie, PA – Governor Tom Wolf joined school district superintendents and education stakeholders in Erie County today to discuss how his three-part plan will ensure charter schools better serve students and taxpayers. Pennsylvania’s flawed and outdated charter school law is known as one of the worst in the nation.

“Pennsylvania’s charter school law is failing students, teachers, school districts and taxpayers,” said Gov. Wolf. “Some charter schools, especially some cyber charter schools, are underperforming and the state and school districts need more tools to hold charters accountable and increase educational quality.

“We must take action. My plan 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.”

Despite costing taxpayers $1.8 billion last year, 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.

Governor Tom Wolf is taking executive action, overhauling regulations, and will propose legislation to comprehensively reform the law. The 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.

Executive Actions
At the direction of the governor, the Department of Education is developing new regulations for charter schools. The regulations will include:

  • Providing school districts with the tools to hold charter schools accountable to provide a quality education.
  • Requiring more transparency with charter school admission and enrollment policies to prevent discrimination.
  • Holding charter schools and the for-profit management companies to the same transparency standards as public schools.
  • Establishing the same ethical standards for charter school Board of Trustees and management companies that apply to public schools.
  • Requiring regular financial audits and public contract bidding.
  • Establishing requirements for charters to document costs to prevent school districts and taxpayers from being overcharged.

The department will also establish a fee-for-service model to recoup the costs for thousands of hours of currently free services to charter schools for reviewing applications, processing millions of payments, and providing legal and administrative support.

Comprehensive Charter School Reform Legislation
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.

A recent report from Stanford University found overwhelmingly negative results from Pennsylvania’s cyber schools and urged the commonwealth to enact reforms.

“There are high-quality charter schools in Pennsylvania, but there are also poor performing charter schools,” said Gov. Wolf. “We can hold all charters to the same standards as traditional public schools and strengthen education in classrooms across the commonwealth. That’s good for every child, family, and taxpayer in Pennsylvania.”

The governor was joined at Grandview Elementary School in the Millcreek Township School District by Superintendent William Hall, Erie School District Superintendent Brian Polito, and other school officials and education stakeholders.

The governor’s push for charter school reform has received support from many education community leaders including the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, Education Voters of Pennsylvania, Research for Action, American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania State Education Association, as well as numerous superintendents and school board members.

Comments about the proposed charter school reforms can be submitted to: Office of the Secretary, 333 Market Street, 10th Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17126.

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