In its final days before the legislative session expires, the General Assembly is in a frenzied pace to reach agreement on some major issues, from pension reform to ride-sharing, opioid addiction to…charter reform?

School Bus

The only significant education reform legislation still in play is HB530, a compromise charter reform bill that addresses many of the concerns charter critics and supporters alike have long acknowledged.

Despite Harrisburg’s reputation for gridlock, it’s worth remembering that earlier this year Governor Wolf and the General Assembly have passed a new school funding formula and expanded education scholarship tax credits, two very important wins.

Reforming Pennsylvania’s outdated charter law has been a quixotic task for multiple Administrations.  If the General Assembly is able to send Governor Wolf a charter bill in the next 3 days, he will face a lot of pressure to sign it so that he can boast that he was the guy who finally got charter reform done.

Here’s why PennCAN believes the time for charter reform is now:

  • HB530 is the only reform issue still on the table.  The Governor vetoed the Protect Excellent Teachers Act (HB805) and he shows no signs of relenting.  SB6 involves intervening in low-performing schools, which makes it part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) conversation and thus appropriate to be considered next year as part of the state’s overall ESSA plan.  HB530, which amends the Charter School Law, is sitting in the House Rules Committee poised for a vote.
  • The inadequacies of the Charter School Law are garnering public attention.  PA has one of the largest populations of students attending charter schools in the nation, and yet we are not a leader in best practices because our Charter School Law has gone untouched for 19 years.  PA’s Auditor General received statewide coverage when he declared PA’s charter law “simply the worst” in the nation after conducting several high profile school districts and charter schools.
  • The current gaps in the Charter School Law have allowed Governor Wolf’s administration to attack and undermine the charter community to appease it’s big labor allies.  Without statutory guidance, Governor Wolf will continue to divert funds from charter school students as he did with the Ready to Learn Block Grant in 2015 and the PA Department of Education’s refusal to handle reconciliation payments for charter schools shortchanged by their districts for 2015 tuition payments.
  • Changes in Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission.  Already, Feather Houston and Marge Neff have announced their resignation.  In January, Sylvia Simms’ term will expire.  With anti-charter Democrats in both the Governor and Mayor’s office, their replacements will likely be anti-charter. That means it’s possible there will be no new charters approved in Philadelphia in the foreseeable future, despite more than 22,000 families on wait lists.

Pennsylvania is ready and in desperate need of charter reform, to protect the many outstanding charter schools successfully serving students and intervene in the schools that are struggling.

The bill isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction in a time when families and taxpayers can’t afford to be standing still.

Jonathan Cetel is the founding executive director of PennCAN. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


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