In a recent decision that will most certainly aid the re-convened Charter School Appeal Board (CAB) tackle a review backlog due to its recent hiatus, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Section 1729-A(a) of the Charter School law does not impose a mandatory deadline by which a school district must decide to renew or not renew a charter school’s charter.
In Eastern University Academy Charter School v. the School District of Philadelphia, the School filed a renewal application in the fall of 2016. However, during the course of its then existing renewed charter from 2012, the operation of the school underwent several significant changes including the end of it affiliation with it founding partner Eastern University on which it had based its operation as an “early college program”.
Additionally, the School District’s Charter Schools office found subpar performance by the school’s students and a failure to adhere to the state goals of the charter.
Consequently, on June 15, 2017, the School Reforms Commission which operated the Philadelphia School District circulated Resolution SRC-8, a non-renewal notice, listing 55 distinct grounds for its decision.
A hearing officer recommended non-renewal and the School Reform Commission voted not to renew the School’s charter on April 26, 2018. The School appealed to CAB, arguing that the charter school law required a school district to finish non-renewal proceedings prior to the end of a charter term. Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that the Charter School law lacked any mandatory deadline for a renewal decision finding that the School’s interpretation was tantamount to asserting that a School District can never decide not to renew a charter unless the non-renewal proceedings are completed “by the end, or prior to or on the expiration date of the charter”.
The Supreme Court rejected this interpretation finding that the legislation would have explicitly said this in the statute if it had desired to restrict the ability of school district to issue non-renewal decisions in such a manner. The Court noted that the legislature had in fact used express “automatic” action language and deadlines in other provisions of the Charter School Law.
The court proceeded to note that ,even to the extent the charter law was ambiguous, the rule of statutory construction prevents a statue from being implemented in such a way that would create an absurd result.
In this regard, the Court stated that to require school districts to complete their evaluations and final decisions prior to the end date of the charter review would hinder the review, particularly as the review would not include the very critical data of the most recent school year. The Court noted that such a review would “erode the system of accountability and oversight” envisioned by the legislature.
The court also explained two other unintended consequences if it were to adopt the School’s interpretation.
First, such a strict deadline would incentivize charter schools to impede the review process so as to evade renewal decisions and attain automatic renewal.
Second, districts which had initiated but failed to timely complete its review, would have to initiate and complete revocation to prevent automatic renewal, essentially duplicating the process and wasting taxpayer dollars. In rejecting the School’s argument, the court concluded that the possibility of such harmful consequences convinced it that the legislature did not intend such results.
Bottom Line for Schools
School districts can cease worrying that missing a charter school’s charter termination date will foreclose their ability to not renew the charter. Despite the comfort afforded by the Supreme Court decision, however, school districts should be reminded that failure to act on a charter school’s request for renewal remains a de facto charter extension. Charter schools remain in full operation even after their charters have expired. If school districts wish to modify charters with enrollment caps or performance standards, they are advantaged by completing the renewal process before the charter expires.
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.