HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania must update the charter school law to remove impediments to establishing the schools and to ensure sufficient accountability measures are in place once the schools are operating, Senator Lloyd K. Smucker (R-13) said Tuesday after introducing Senate Bill 1085.
“Charter schools are public schools, so we have an obligation to see that they are run right and perform up to standards,” Smucker said. “Pennsylvania broke ground with its charter school law, incorporating the best thinking of the time. Now we have years of practical experience showing what works and what needs to be fixed. I believe that charter schools are a valuable option for students and families, and they certainly have proved popular; these changes will ensure they remain a trustworthy option, academically and financially. This package is both pro-charter and pro-taxpayer.”
Under SB 1085, accountability measures for charters include: complying with the open meetings law, the open records law, and the ethics act; requiring more detailed reporting and disclosure; and undergoing an annual independent audit.
The state Department of Education will develop a realistic and reliable method for determining how well individual charter schools are doing in meeting student needs.
“Parents and taxpayers have a hard time figuring out what the real track record of charter schools is, because there is so much conflicting commentary,” Smucker said. “Every study produced seems to provoke opposite conclusions of success and failure. A solid set of standards should allow us to get past the constant arguments over everything from funding formulas to student outcomes.”
The Smucker bill uses a bipartisan amendment the Senate approved to Senate Bill 1 last session as the starting point, and makes several additions, most notably giving universities the power to authorize charter schools.
“This is a balanced bill that offers practical solutions to legitimate concerns raised by charter school advocates and critics,” Smucker said.
On the funding side, a chief complaint of school districts is addressed with the elimination of the so-called pension double-dip. Unassigned fund balances will be limited, as is already the case for school districts. Excess funds will be returned to the sending school districts.
To help prospective charters obtain financing, the charter term for initial approval is extended to five years, and to ten years for an extension.
Having a standard charter school application helps both sides, preventing school boards from having to deal with incomplete submissions, and preventing charter school applicants from being confronted with endless requests for additional information.
SB 1085 marks the culmination of many lengthy and constructive discussions with charter school advocates, school district officials and other stakeholders. The legislation was developed in conjunction with Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D-8), Smucker said.
“His insight and experience were critical to ensuring that the reforms in this measure are comprehensive and workable,” Smucker said. “He is an unwavering advocate for improving the quality of education in the Commonwealth and strengthening the choices available to Pennsylvania Students.”
Follow Senator Lloyd Smucker on Twitter @SenatorSmucker