The following is a message sent to members of the House of Representatives from PennCAN’s Executive Director:

Dear Honorable Members of the House of Representatives,

I am writing on behalf of PennCAN and our supporters to urge you to vote yes on reforming PA’s outdated Charter School Law (HB530).

First, it’s important to clarify some misinformation that has been circulating around HB530.  Specifically:

  • HB530 does not eliminate enrollment caps.  Limiting the number of students a charter school can enroll (aka enrollment caps) is already illegal.  It merely preserves existing law and Supreme Court precedent.
  • HB530 will not lead to the unfettered expansion of charter schools.  When the cigarette tax was enacted in Philadelphia, critics made the same argument.  Since then, the School Reform Commission has eliminated more charter seats than it has opened.  Nothing in this bill will hinder a school district’s ability to continue closing low-performers and setting a high bar for new applicants.  Furthermore, HB530 upholds the current law, which requires charter operators to seek approval from their local school board to add a new grade to their school and to add/change a building’s location.
  • HB530 will not strip local school boards of authority.  In earlier iterations of the charter bill, there were provisions to allow for state and university authorizers.  Those provisions have been removed.  Local school boards will remain the only entity with the ability to authorize new brick-and-mortar charter schools.
  • HB530 does not exclude charter schools from being evaluated by the School Performance Profile (SPP).  It seems as though critics of HB530 have misread the bill and believe that the creation of a performance matrix to evaluate the academic achievements of charter schools would exempt them from the SPP, thus eliminating a layer of accountability.  This is false.  Under HB530 charter schools would continue to be included in the SPP, which allows for the comparison of schools based on performance metrics, AND they would be evaluated using a uniform performance matrix (created by the State Board of Education) to assist schools in making renewal decisions.

The fact is that HB530 contains many positive policy initiatives concerning ethics, transparency and auditing.  It also includes several provisions that have gotten little attention, such as creating a standard enrollment form, requiring at least one parent to serve on every charter school board, and clarifying enrollment policies to ensure the integrity of the lottery system.

HB530 acknowledges that some charter schools are vastly outperforming traditional public schools.  Schools that meet a high bar of excellence will be eligible for benefits such as a 10-year renewal and the opportunity to merge campuses to form a Multiple Charter Organization.

Finally, the bill does even more for traditional public schools than it does for charter schools.  For example, HB530 provides $27 million in savings for districts by cutting cyber school tuition, it creates a commission to evaluate and propose changes to how charter schools are funded, and requires charters to return excess fund balances back to the district.

In conclusion, HB530 is a fair compromise bill that includes helpful reforms.  We encourage a YES vote.

Respectfully,

Jonathan Cetel, Executive Director

PennCAN

Jessica is the Public Affairs Manager at PennCAN.

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