Change Sought in PA Charter Schools Approval System

Under current Pennsylvania charter school law — passed 15 years ago in 1997 — charters seek permission from school boards to operate, and it’s the school boards that pay when they approve such a school. This is a state of affairs many people find flawed, which is driving campaigning to change the law to allow multiple organizations the power to approve charters so school boards lose their current veto power.

“The current system is like McDonald’s having to ask Wendy’s if they can open a franchise in their region,” said state Rep. Tom Killion, R-Delaware County, who proposed legislation last spring that would allow charter school applicants to choose between a school district, a university or state panel.

Killon’s bill was defeated, but it would have allowed charter school applicants in the lowest performing 10% of school districts to apply to a state panel for authorization. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association justifies its opposition by pointing to a Stanford study that shows charter schools score better in states with one authorizer than with states with multiple authorizers.

Killon disputes the study:

“I don’t buy that. When you look at the charters, you’ve got understand they start out far below the regular school,” he said arguing that students who choose to leave a traditional public school are more likely to be struggling than their peers

The currently adversarial system has seen a decline in the relationship between school districts and charter schools since Governor Tom Corbett last year cut the reimbursement the school districts received for charter school tuition. Some of the larger districts lost millions.

“That’s been a contentious issue,” said state Rep. Will Tallman, R-Reading Township, who is secretary of the House education committee. “That’s why I think we have to do funding differently.”

While Pennsylvania is far from being alone in its current handling of charter schools, the current trend in states across the US is for relaxing of charter school legislation.

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