Last Monday, the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission passed rules proposed by Governor Wolf which would impose stricter regulatory standards upon Pennsylvania Charter Schools.
Charter schools educate 170,000 students throughout the state-and that number is growing. There are 179 charter schools, including 14 cyber charter schools, operating in Pennsylvania. One-third of all Philadelphia public school students attend charter schools. Last year, enrollment in cyber charter schools grew faster in Pennsylvania than any other state. Why is this important to public school districts?
Charters are funded by public school districts based upon enrollment numbers. In other words, Pennsylvania school districts collect taxes from district residents, and then are required to pass on a certain allocation of those funds to local charter schools.
The Pennsylvania Charter School Law has historically been criticized for providing insufficient oversight and funding provisions.
Critics say that the law puts school districts in the unenviable position of paying larger and larger percentages of their budget to charters without the ability to effectively hold charter schools accountable, as they are tasked with doing. Moreover, they claim, the law overfunds cyber charters to the detriment of school districts, since cyber charters are funded at the same rate as brick and mortar charter schools.
In response to these concerns, Governor Tom Wolf has initiated a broad effort to revamp how charters are regulated and funded. Those efforts include the rules passed a few days ago.
More specifically, the rules, among other things:
(1) Require charters to abide by the same accounting and audit practices as school districts;
(2) Require charter trustees to comply with the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act (which applies to school district board members);
(3) Require charters to provide the same health-care plans to employees as offered by school districts
(4) Provide dispute resolution processes for districts and charters to follow in the event of funding disagreements
(5) Include a standardized application process specifying what type of information new charter applicants should provide to school districts, which are charged with deciding whether to approve brick-and-mortar charters. (The state’s 14 cyber charters are authorized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.)
Bottom Line for Schools
Importantly, these regulations do not specifically resolve the funding battles between charters and school districts, because that would require a change to state law (by the legislature). To date, Wolf hasn’t been successful in convincing the Republican-controlled legislature to agree to his charter reform package. These rules, and his charter reform package, have been opposed by charter advocates and Republican lawmakers, who see these reforms as an attempt to unfairly curb charter growth and school choice.
The rules could take effect as soon as the end of May.
School Law Bullets are a publication of KingSpry’s Education Law Practice Group. This article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.