Charter School Bill Hits Another Roadblock in Pennsylvania

Three years of effort by charter school advocates in Pennsylvania has been stalled as the state's General Assembly failed to pass a bill that would give the state authority to approve charter applications. The barrier appears to be in the House, where enough Republicans abandoned support for the measure that calling a vote became pointless even after the Senate passed the bill by a margin of 33-16.

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools was hoping to get the bill passed that would place all the charter school approval power into the hands of the state authorizers. At the moment, the state can approve cyber charter schools, but the decision on brick and mortar schools remains with local school districts.

After a failure to vote by the House signaled general defeat for the measure, the group released a "biting" statement condemning House members for failing to do their duty.

"This lack of action by the House continues to deny hope to our most vulnerable children; is a stand against higher standards and accountability; keeps charter legislation in Pennsylvania 15 years behind the best educational practices; and is a national embarrassment for the commonwealth," the statement read.

It went on to say that the group worked on the bill, removing or adding provisions each time the Assembly failed to move forward, in December 2011 and in June and October of this year. The bill would have allowed charters to operate more efficiently by centralizing the approval process, solving several issues that have arisen over the period that charters have been operating in the state.

"At the last minute, all of the work to provide a more accountable and transparent education system was destroyed by misinformation and intimidation by organizations that represent the entrenched special interests in the educational monopoly," the statement said.

"It was nothing more than a power play by those in power to retain power, at the expense of our parents and children. It's not disappointing to us that such tactics were attempted, but it is incredibly disappointing that they worked."

The group has already said that it plans to continue to work to bring a strong charter school bill in front of the Assembly next year.

Tom Gentzel, executive director of Pennsylvania School Boards Association, explained his group's opposition to measure by saying that it was a form of an unfunded mandate. Rather than making provisions for funding the charter schools approved by the state, the bill only provided for studying how it should be done. Gentzel said that leaving it like this could mean that the new charters would become a drain on the resources of local districts.

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